The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft (1985) by Sonia H. Davis

I’ve heard from various sources in town that Lovecraft’s wife has suddenly put in an appearance and is causing somewhat of a rumpus. Is this true, or is it, as usual, the kind of ill thought out gossip that is prevalent among the inept citizens of the L. A. Fantasy Society?
—Ray Bradbury to August Derleth, 19 Nov 1947 

Lovecraft’s wife did turn up; she is now a Mrs. Sonia Davis, the widow of the husband (no. 3) she had after HPL. She wrote a biography called THE PRIVATE LIFE OF H. P. LOVECRAFT, and wanted to incorporate a lot of his prejudices as if they were major parts of his life, seen through her Yiddish eyes; she also wanted to include letters of Lovecraft, but we pointed out that the only way she could do that would be with our permission first. We have heard nothing further from her, though I had a talk with her in New York City.
—August Derleth to Ray Bradbury, 21 Nov 1947

Howard Phillips Lovecraft met Sonia Haft Greene at an amateur convention in Boston in 1921; on 3 March 1924 they were married. The union was brief; they cohabited for only about fifteen months in New York City, with Sonia forced to seek work in the Midwest where Howard would not follow, and Howard returned to Providence. In 1929, Sonia petitioned Howard for a divorce; due to the laws in place at the time, this could not be granted without cause, and the pretense was made that Sonia had deserted him. Howard, however, did not sign the final decree. They remained in touch for some years, and Howard even helped her with her travelogue. In 1933 Sonia left for California, and in 1936 she remarried, to Nathaniel Abraham Davis. H. P. Lovecraft died in 1937; Sonia was not made aware of this until 1945, when informed of the fact by their mutual associate Wheeler Dryden. Nathaniel Davis died 6 April 1946.

So it was, in the immediate aftermath of the second World War and the revelations of the Holocaust, that Sonia H. Davis cast back her mind some twenty years to write her memoir of her second husband, H. P. Lovecraft. The resulting document is a valuable account on several fronts: no one was as intimate with H. P. in the way of his wife, and since H. P. was very reluctant to write about his marriage in his letters, Sonia’s account provides the major source for their domestic life, as well as incidental information on their courtship.

Getting published, however, was a bit tricky.

While here Belknap Long put me in touch with Mr. August Derleth, who seems to have full rights to HP’s work; at least so he states.

I read a few pages to him from my scribbled manuscript (it was almost illegible to myself).

At first he told me that he wanted to publish it. Then he shunted me off to one Ben Abramson who, he said would publish it. At first Derleth said he would me $600.00 for it at the end of three years, with possibly a small initial sum against royalties.

I’m not young enough to wait three years. If the work is important to those who are most interested I felt it ought to be paid for outright.

So upon reflection I wrote to Mr. Derleth telling him I would have my own publisher do the work and that I would use my story of the “Invisible Monster” as revised by H.P. of mine first as well as some very personal letters and poems of his revision.

In reply he shot back a spec. del. letter that all HP. material belong to the estate of H.P.L. and that “Arkham House” (ie. he) alone had full legal rights to its use; and that I was likely to find that the could would restrain the sale of the work, would confiscate & destroy it.

I have written him stating that I had already offered the material to you, but that I may have to retract the offer if I am to be punished for using letters that were addressed to me personally.

Perhaps I am quite ignorant of the law but I cannot see how these can belong to the Lovecraft estate, to Mr. Barlow (as he stated) or to himself! Personally I no longer feel an interest in my past. Other interests have developed since then. However, because Mr. D. & you and others clamored for HPL’s private life with me, I thought it might be a source of income, and at the same time tell some truths that would throw more light on his character and perhaps on his psychology.

Since I do not know the law regarding these matters and as I have no money to start any “fights” it might be the better part of valor to drop the matter altogether, since while I do not fear Mr. D’s veiled threats and open intimidation I’m not in a position to fight.

Mr. D’s method of “high pressuring” me into doing what he wants is not to my taste. It would be interesting to contact the county clerk in Providence and make sure my reasons to believe that H.P. died intestate. If so, how does the property belong to Barlow and Derleth?

Had HP. lived and known of D’s aims, I feel sure he would not have countenanced D’s intimidation of me, no matter how much he would have liked to have his words read by his followers.

Sonia Davis to Winfield Townley Scott, 13 Sep 1947

We will never know exactly what passed between August Derleth and Sonia when they met in New York, but some correspondence survives regarding the meeting and its aftermath. After his death, Lovecraft had provided instructions that R. H. Barlow was to be his literary executor, and whether or not the document was exactly legal his surviving aunt Annie Gamwell respected his wishes. August Derleth and Donald Wandrei were anxious and eager to get Lovecraft into print so that their friend’s work would not be lost; to this end they quickly got to work, and after securing permission from Mrs. Gamwell, began looking for a publisher. Failing to find one, they founded their own small press: Arkham House.

Barlow’s position as literary executor was a complication; especially as Barlow was at university at the time and moved from Kansas City to San Francisco, and then down to Mexico. Donald Wandrei joined the U.S. Army during WWII (Derleth was exempted from the draft for health reasons), leaving Derleth in essential control of Arkham House—and by extension, the Lovecraft estate, having secured Barlow’s essential cooperation for access to Lovecraft’s manuscripts and letters and Gamwell’s permission to print. Derleth took a very proprietary stance with regard to Lovecraft’s fiction, claiming that Arkham House had sole and exclusive rights to all of it, as well as his letters and any other materials—if it was to be published, it would be through Arkham House. In part, this legal bluff was hard-nosed business sense, Arkham House was not exactly a cash cow, with small print runs of relatively expensive books that took a long time to sell, the company basically supported by Derleth’s other writing. But also in part Derleth wished to preserve the memory of H. P. Lovecraft and his image. So Derleth would also threaten legal action against C. Hall Thompson during this period for using the Mythos without permission, and in 1950 would refuse publication of Warren Thomas’ thesis on Lovecraft, which cast an unflattering light.

Meanwhile, did I tell you Sonia Lovecraft Davis turned up with some laughable idea of cashing in on HPL’s “fame” and the desire to publish a “frank” book, entitled THE PRIVATE LIFE OF H. P. LOVECRAFT, and quoting generously from his letters. She read me part of the ms. in New York, and in it she has HPL posing as a Jew-baiter (she is Jewish), she says she completely supported HPL for the years 1924 to 1932, and so on, all bare-faced lies. I startled her considerably when I told her we had a detailed account of their life together in HPL’s letters to Mrs. Clark [Lovecraft’s aunt Lillian Clark]. I also forbade her to use any quotations from HPL’s letters without approval from us, acting for the estate. I told her by all means to write her book and I would read it, but it was pathetically funny; she thought you could get rich on the book. She said it would sell easily a million copies! Can you beat it! I tried to point out that a biographical book on HPL by myself, out two years, had not yet sold 1000 copies, and that book combined two well-known literary names. She thought she should have $500 advance on her book as a gift, and royalties besides! I burst into impolite laughter, I fear.
—August Derleth to R. H. Barlow, 23 Oct 1947

Sonia probably didn’t have an idea about the realities of publishing, and she did likely need the money. An agreement was finally reached: Sonia cut all the quotations from Lovecraft’s letters, and the journalist Winfield Townley Scott heavily edited the piece, which was published in the 28 August 1948 edition of the Providence Journal as “Howard Phillips Lovecraft As His Wife Remembers Him.”

In September 1948, Sonia suffered a heart attack.

“Howard Phillips Lovecraft As His Wife Remembers Him” was published in Books at Brown vol. XI, nos. 1-2; Lovecraft’s papers had been placed at the John Hay Library at Brown University in Providence by R. H. Barlow shortly after Lovecraft’s death. Cordial relations between Sonia and August Derleth were re-established. In 1949, Arkham House published Something About Cats and Other Pieces which included “Lovecraft As I Knew Him” (a Derleth-edited version of “Howard Phillips Lovecraft As His Wife Remembers Him”) as well as the stories “The Invisible Monster” and “Four O’Clock.”

Little other material was forthcoming; Sonia broke her hip in 1960 and ceased to work, moving into a rest home. Arkham House eventually published a briefer remembrance “Memories of Lovecraft I” in the Arkham Collector (Winter 1969), and later a letter that Lovecraft had sent her as “Lovecraft in Love” in the Arkham Collector (Winter 1971). A young student named R. Alain Everts, interviewing Lovecraft’s surviving correspondents interviewed her and obtained a copy of Alcestis which he would eventually publish. His final telephone call with her was 22 December 1972; Sonia H. Davis would pass away four days later.

While a few more items would be published after Sonia’s death, her memoir of Lovecraft remains her single largest work. It was eventually published in its original form—sans any quotes from Lovecraft’s letters but before Scott or Derleth edited it, with an appendix on their mutual friend Samuel Loveman—in 1985 from Necronomicon Press under her original title: The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft.

As an historical document, Sonia’s memoir is both extremely valuable and not without its flaws. On the one hand, it is a first-person account, even if some of the events being written about are twenty years in the past. Many of the basic facts that can be checked against other sources do check out; there are a few claims that probably deserved caveats—S. T. Joshi in his introduction to the text notes:

The extent to which Sonia harps upon money matters in her memoir may in part be justified—she was clearly trying to set the record straight and correct the inadequacies of previous treatments, especially by W. Paul Cook—but also underscores another point of tension which Lovecraft was perhaps reluctant to mention to his correspondents. For a full two years—from 1924 to 1926—Lovecraft was essentially supported financially by his wife. he had virtually no independent income, and his bootless efforts to find employment in New York are poignantly chronicled in his letters of the period. (5-6)

Some claims have to be measured against what else we know. Sonia’s assertion that:

He admired Hitler, and read Mein Kampf almost as soon as it was released and translated into English. I believe he was much influenced by that book. It may have had much to do in influencing further his hate, not only for Jews, but for all minorities, which he made little effort to conceal. (28)

This claim is on the last page of the book, in an addendum of afterthoughts that are predominantly about Lovecraft’s racial views. Keeping in mind that Sonia was writing this after World War II, when antisemitism was more prominent, and that she had very limited contact with Lovecraft after 1932 when Hitler came to power—which she and Lovecraft chronicled a small part of in their European Glimpses. The first English edition of Mein Kampf was the Dugdale abridged version published in 1933; it is possible Lovecraft read this, although there is no mention of it in his correspondence, and excerpts were published in the Times. So the claim is a bit iffy on the face: it’s not clear how Sonia would know this, the timing is a bit suspect, and there is no clear corroborating evidence from Lovecraft’s letters that he read Mein Kampf. But it cannot be completely discounted; they may well have continued corresponding in the mid-30s, and Lovecraft may have read the excerpts in the Times and mentioned them.

Similar consideration has to be given to every claim in the book. Her insistence on the importance of The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft to Howard does not seem borne out by a study of Lovecraft’s letters, but many other little details are. In some cases, such as the writing of “The Horror at Martin’s Beach,” Sonia is essentially the sole source we have to go on. Her manuscript sans Scott and Derleth’s writing is often disordered, written down as she remembers it, or to counteract specific points in previous memoirs about Lovecraft that had been written at that point (1946).

Also telling at the things that Sonia does not talk about. She makes almost no mention of her previous marriage or family; barely mentioning her mother (Lovecraft’s mother-in-law), who was alive and in New York at the time of their marriage, or her adult daughter Carol Weld (they had become estranged sometime in the 1920s), and no mention of her half-siblings in the Midwest. Juicy details on the Lovecrafts’ sex life were also not forthcoming, although Everts would provide what few we have from his interviews with Sonia, and Derleth noted after meeting Sonia in Los Angeles in 1953:

A propos your piece on Lovecraft, the question of HPL and sex had been bothering me for some time […] so in 1953 when I was in Los Angeles, I asked Sonia Davis—the ex-Mrs. Lovecraft—rather bluntly about HPL’s sexual adequacy. She assured me that he had been entirely adequate sexually, and since she impressed me as a well-sexed woman, not easily satisfied, I concluded that HPL’s “Aversion” was very probably nothing more than a kind of puritanism—that is, it was something “gentlemen” didn’t discuss.
—August Derleth, Haunted (1968) vol. 1, no 3, 114

Much of the actual domestic life and some of their later visits after their separation are not included in Sonia’s memoir. We know from Lovecraft’s letters to his aunts that he spent an extensive amount of time out of the household, visiting friends and the Kalem Club; we know that they enjoyed going out to dinner and to the theater; that when she was ill he would visit her in the hospital for hours; that they struggled with finances after Sonia lost her job and ended up selling some of her furniture.

It is an important memoir; perhaps one of the most important memoirs of Lovecraft that we have. Nearly forty years were required to get Sonia’s unedited words to the public, and she did not live to see that happen. The few errors in it or the critical assessment of some claims do not detract from its importance; it is the nature of historical research to question sources, to view them critically, to weigh the evidence against other accounts. To ask ourselves why Sonia was writing this, and to whom. There she was, alone once more, writing about a husband that had died nearly a decade before, and whom she had first met over twenty years before—and there are moments in her recollections that may be a bit rose-tinted, and others where Sonia was clearly trying to answer to claims about Lovecraft’s prejudices, or refute the inaccuracies of early biographers. Yet she wrote what only she could—and we are the richer for it.

“The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft” has been most recently published in Ave Atque Vale (2018) from Necronomicon Press, alongside other memoirs of Lovecraft.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

The Woman of Arkham Advertiser (A・Aの女): Article 01: In The Vault (2019) by Takata Yuki (高田 悠希)

It was the publicity attending this investigation which set reporters on the track of the Whateleys, and caused the Boston Globe and Arkham Advertiser to print flamboyant Sunday stories of young Wilbur’s precociousness, Old Whateley’s black magic, the shelves of strange books, the sealed second story of the ancient farmhouse, and the weirdness of the whole region and its hill noises.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Dunwich Horror”

The public knows of the Miskatonic Expedition through our frequent wireless reports to the Arkham Advertiser and Associated Press, and through the later articles of Pabodie and myself.
—H. P. Lovecraft, At the Mountains of Madness

As was only natural under the circumstances, this piquant debating finally got into print in the form of letters to the Arkham Advertiser; some of which were copied in the press of those Vermont regions whence the flood-stories came.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Whisperer in Darkness”

Lovecraftian manga have been undergoing a recent renaissance in Japan, with the critically acclaimed reception of Tanabe Gou’s adaptations of At the Mountains of Madness, “The Hound,” “The Colour Out of Space,” and most recently “The Call of Cthulhu,” all of which have been or are being translated and published in foreign language editions: Spanish, Italian, French, German, English, etc. Other popular adaptations include the Cthulhu no Yobi Koe series by Chuuou Higashiguchi (中央東口), and related manga include the Minase Yomu and the Really Scary Cthulhu Mythology (水瀬陽夢と本当はこわいクトゥルフ神話) series by Yoshihara Masahiko (吉原雅彦), and the many Zone of Cthulhu manga released by the SAN-EI Corporation (三栄)—which includes The Woman of Arkham Advertiser (A・Aの女) series by Takata Yuki (高田 悠希).

The conceit of the series is simple: Alice Allan is a cub reporter for the Arkham Advertiser, the local newspaper that appears in several of Lovecraft’s stories, and her “cases” cover a number of Lovecraft’s stories, both Mythos and non-Mythos, as set around Arkham. The result is a series of adaptations with a twist: we get to see the stories from a new perspective, that of a young newspaperwoman investigating the odd happenings. The series is categorized as a seinen (青年漫画), aimed at young men (18-30s), being more realistic and less action-packed than manga like One Piece or Dragon Ball, but readers of all genders and ages can appreciate it.

Chibi
Chibi version of Billy, a supporting character.

The adaptation is played seriously, but with more than a few laughs thrown in, the figures sometimes reduced to small chibi-style exaggerated figures to emphasize the one-off joke, familiar from manga like Shirow Masamune’s original Ghost in the Shell. The translation by Amimaru Translation and Localization Services Ltd. is mostly solid, although every now and again a joke may fail to land due to some cultural crossing of wires.

The small details and stark contrasts in the illustrations really shine though. Takata Yuki has worked hard to express the America of the 1920s, full of newsboys and the transition from the small industrial city of Arkham to out-of-the-way rural community of Peck Valley is like traveling back in time. Done in simple black-and-white, the bright outside scenes are given white backgrounds, while the moment the intrepid reporters step into the vault, the page is dominated by huge splashes of stark black, a very effective presentation that accentuates the emotional response of Alice Allan and her associate Billy.

Alice herself is the major focus and driver of the plot. She desires to prove herself as a reporter, and this is her first real opportunity to do so, by looking into the morbid details around the mysterious death and quick burial. While her enthusiasm is sometimes played for laughs, especially when contrasted against her long-suffering friend Billy, it is very effective at cutting right to the heart of Lovecraft’s story.

The story is not exactly a straight adaptation; Takata Yuki wisely doesn’t attempt to mimic the style of Lovecraft’s prose, and takes a few liberties with the ending, hinting at this being a small piece of a bigger picture that the reporters know they can’t quite see yet. Which works very well; Alice Allan is an engaging, energetic, enthusiastic protagonist, and starting slow with one of Lovecraft’s more low-key stories as their first “case” was a wise decision on the part of Takata Yuki.

The Woman of the Arkham Advertiser is available in Japanese on Kindle, and in English on Manga Planet subscription service.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

“Polaris” (1920) by H. P. Lovecraft & “The Lair of the Star-Spawn” (1932) by August Derleth and Mark Schorer

That night had the news come of Daikos’ fall, and of the advance of the Inutos; squat, hellish, yellow fiends who five years ago had appeared out of the unknown west to ravage the confines of our kingdom, and finally to besiege our towns. Having taken the fortified places at the foot of the mountains, their way now lay open to the plateau, unless every citizen could resist with the strength of ten men. For the squat creatures were mighty in the arts of war, and knew not the scruples of honour which held back our tall, grey-eyed men of Lomar from ruthless conquest. […]

They say there is no land of Lomar, save in my nocturnal imaginings; that in those realms where the Pole Star shines high and red Aldebaran crawls low around the horizon, there has been naught save ice and snow for thousands of years, and never a man save squat yellow creatures, blighted by the cold, whom they call “Esquimaux”.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “Polaris”

At the end of the 19th century, the Yellow Peril or Yellow Terror had gripped the imagination of the Western world; works such as weird fiction author M. P. Shiel’s The Yellow Danger; Or, what Might Happen in the Division of the Chinese Empire Should Estrange all European Countries (1898) were pure invective, fueling racist and Orientalist fantasies about Asia and the prospect of a global conflict on the lines not of nation-states, but of race. The victory of an industrialized Japan in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) stoked these fears, and a year before the Great War broke out found an avatar in Dr. Fu Manchu, the villainous star of what would become thirteen novels by Sax Rohmer. Fu Manchu would inspire hundreds of copycats, not a few of whom appeared in Weird Tales, and even by favorite authors; Robert E. Howard’s “Kathulos” from the serial “Skull-Face” (1929) definitely has Fu Manchu in its literary DNA. The Yellow Peril, in more generalized form, would be familiar in Weird Tales throughout its entire run from 1923-1954, as was the case in many pulps.

Throughout his life H. P. Lovecraft was clear in his genuine belief in the Yellow Peril, at least as an impending threat. One passage from a letter will suffice to give the general substance of this racialist paranoia, although in many other instances Lovecraft wrote admiringly of Japanese culture and aesthetics, and of Japanese actors and artists:

Of Japan I have not so far spoken, because I think it a certain enemy of the future, which no plan can permanently make a friend. It demands free access to Anglo-Saxon soil for its citizens, and this can never be given. Orientals must be kept in their native East till the fall of the white race. Sooner or later a great Japanese war will take place, during which I think the virtual destruction of Japan will have to be effected in the interests of European safety. The more numerous Chinese are a menace of the still more distant future. They will probably be the exterminators of Caucasian civilisation, for their numbers are amazing. But that is all too far ahead for consideration today.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Alfred Galpin, 30 Sep 1919, Letters to Alfred Galpin 57

Despite this belief, which was relatively common during the period, the Yellow Peril is scarce in Lovecraft’s fiction. He never quite develops a Fu Manchu type character, the cult in “The Horror at Red Hook” has overtones of the multiethnic criminal enterprise of Rohmer’s villain, the “corpse-eating cult of inaccessible Leng” in “The Hound” is located in Central Asia, and Castro in “The Call of Cthulhu” claims that he has spoken to the “undying leaders of the cult in the mountains of China,” likely a reference to the mythical Shambala and the claims of the Theosophical Society to receive their guidance from the Great White Brotherhood in Asia. There are only two stories where the idea of a racial conflict on these lines is suggested in Lovecraft’s fiction: a glancing reference in “Through the Gates of the Silver Key” (“that Pickman Carter who in the year 2169 would use strange means in repelling the Mongol hordes from Australia”) written with E. Hoffmann Price, and the very short story “Polaris.”

The story came from an odd start. In 1918, Lovecraft was arguing about religion in one of his letters, which led to a discussion of truth and recalling a recent dream:

Several nights ago I had a strange dream of a strange city—a city of many palaces and gilded domes, lying in a hollow betwixt ranges of grey, horrible hills. There was not a soul in this vast region of stone-paved streets and marble walls and columns, and the numerous statues in the public places were of strange bearded men in robes the like whereof I have never seen before or since. […]
—H. P. Lovecraft to Maurice W. Moe, 15 May 1918, Letters to Maurice W. Moe 70

Shortly thereafter, Lovecraft shaped the dream into “Polaris,” about a man who dreams (or is possessed by the spirit) of an ancestor from 26,000 years before, in the land of Lomar situated in the far north. This would be familiar to audiences at the time as a reference to racialist theories of Caucasians originating from Northern Europe. Lomar is under peril from the Inutos—and these are explicitly Asian stereotypes, which Lovecraft near the end directly associates them with the Inuit people, foreshadowing his reference to the “degenerate Esquimaux” in “The Call of Cthulhu” a decade later.

At this point in his life, Lovecraft’s racialist beliefs were strongly influenced by Thomas Henry Huxley, who categorized the Inuit and other Native Americans and trans-polar peoples as “Mongoloids” alongside many Asian ethnicities. Lovecraft typically shortened this to reference to “Mongolians” or “Mongols,” regardless of nationality or ethnicity. The fantasy racism that Lovecraft engages in here, equating a contemporary group of people with a mythical precursor, was not unknown—the entire “Lost Race” subgenre of scientific romance depends on such linkages, and the basic ideology can be seen in Robert E. Howard’s “The Hyborian Age” (1936) essay and in some of the worldbuilding of J. R. R. Tolkien, who at the same time was crafting what would the background of The Hobbit (1937) and The Lrod of the Rings (1955).

Lovecraft’s use of the term “Esquimau” and its plural “Esquimaux” was a touch archaic in the 1910s, 20s, and 30s, but not necessarily intended as a pejorative. The term “Eskimo” was in general use (as evidenced by the 1933 film Eskimo, which Lovecraft had seen), and Lovecraft’s preference for the older form an apparent affection. The term “Inutos” suggests he was at least aware of the term “Inuit,” even if he chose not to use it; the suffix “-os” would make the name match the other pseudo-Grecian names in the story. While there are no contemporary accounts of Lovecraft’s thoughts on the Inuit, later in life his few references in his letters categorize them as a “degenerate offshoot” of the “Mongolian race.” (A Means to Freedom 1.482) This was a very typical distinction for Lovecraft to make, when regarding a culture that he was generally ignorant of but perceived as “primitive” compared to contemporary (and white) civilization.

Which is a great deal to unpack from a few lines in a story of a little over 1,500 words. Nor was it an immediate success; Lovecraft shared it in the amateur Transatlantic Circular, and it was published in the amateur journal The Philosopher in 1920. In 1925, Lovecraft submitted it to editor Farnsworth Wright at Weird Tales, but it was rejected as a “prose-poem.” In 1931, Lovecraft submitted it to editor Harry Bates at Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror, who likewise rejected it, and in 1932 to Carl Swanson’s projected magazine Galaxy, which never came out. “Polaris” was finally reprinted in the fanzine The Fantasy Fan (Feb 1934), where it was well-received by readers. The first professional publication of “Polaris” was posthumous, in Weird Tales (Dec 1937). August Derleth and Donald Wandrei included it in their initial Arkham House publication The Outsider and Others (1939), sealing its place in the Lovecraft canon.

That wasn’t necessarily the case. Lovecraft had a soft spot for the little tale, but soured on it nearer the end of his life:

“Polaris” is a sort of semi-favourite of mine—written in 1918 & therefore largely experimental.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 28 Aug 1930,
Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 229

I’ve expunged both from my list of acknowledged writings—relating them to the oblivion now enjoyed by such failures as “The Street” & “Juan Romero”. Before long I shall strike other times out in the same way—”The Tree”, “Polaris”, “The Hound”, “The White Ship”, “He”, & perhaps a few more. It doesn’t do me any good to have my name associated with absurd crap.
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 19 Mar 1934, O Fortunate Floridian! 120

The real legacy of “Polaris” and the impact it had on Lovecraft and his writings is that the idea of Lomar as this mythical ancient northern land became an intertextual element in Lovecraft’s fiction, mentioned in “The Other Gods,” “The Quest of Iranon,” “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath,” “The Mound” (with Zealia Bishop), At the Mountains of Madness, “Through the Gates of the Silver Key” (with E. Hoffmann Price), and “The Horror in the Museum” (with Hazel Heald), and “The Shadow out of Time,” which contains Lovecraft’s only other reference to the Inutos:

I talked […] with that of a king of Lomar who had ruled that terrible polar land 100,000 years before the squat, yellow Inutos came from the west to engulf it […]
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Shadow out of Time”

Which is where things get a little weird. In “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath,” Lovecraft says:

[…] the hairy cannibal Gnophkehs overcame many-templed Olathoë and slew all the heroes of the land of Lomar.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath”

Just to make things complicated, a very different entity with a similar name and geographic bound is given in another story:

A small bulge in the canvas far to the right suggested the sharp horn of Gnoph-keh, the hairy myth-thing of the Greenland ice, that walked sometimes on two legs, sometimes on four, and sometimes on six.
—H. P. Lovecraft & Hazel Heald, “The Horror in the Museum”

The accounts are contradictory and at a glance irreconcilable; it is difficult to tell if Lovecraft was deliberately muddying the waters of his own Mythos, or if his conception of what caused the fall of Lomar had shifted from 1918 when he wrote “Polaris” to 1926 when he wrote “Dream-Quest” to 1932 when he wrote “The Horror in the Museum” for Hazel Heald. Later writers made efforts to gloss these contradictions, which resulted in stories such as “Nautical-Looking Negroes” (1996) by Peter Cannon & Robert M. Price.

It is too much to suggest that Lovecraft made the change from Inutos to Gnophkehs because he recognized the Yellow Peril influence of the work and wished to change it; the last appearance of the Inutos is in “The Shadow out of Time,” written in 1934, and there is no evidence in Lovecraft’s letters that his basic prejudices regarding the Inuit changed substantially by that point in his life.

When we talk about talk about the effect that Lovecraft’s prejudices had on his fiction, and by extension the fiction of other writers, it is not necessarily the very blatant examples of an N-word in print, or even the infamous ending to “Medusa’s Coil.” It is the much more subtle impact of racialist thought and tropes, however common and accepted they may have been in Lovecraft’s time, which persist as part of the Mythos. The Inutos, thankfully, are not especially pervasive in the wider Cthulhu Mythos; Lomar and Gnoph-Keh/the gnophkehs are more popular.

This is not always the case.

One of us was home for the summer from a year of teaching at a military academy in Missouri and preparing for post-graduate work at Wisconsin and Harvard, the other was back to stay in Sauk City, Wisconsin, having resigned an editorial position with Fawcett Publications in order to do or die as a writer. Though both our homes were in Sauk City, we chose not to work in them but to rent what had once been a summer cottage on the village’s main street, just north of the business section, in a relatively quite zone on the west bank of the Wisconsin. […] the method of work was this—the basic outline for each story was set down by Derleth, the entire first draft then written by Schorer, a final revision made by Derleth. […] he went over the manuscript, sometimes rewriting, sometimes simply retyping selected pages or paragraphs; and prepared the story for submission—usually to Weird Tales or Strange Tales, and rounded out the evening by outlining the next story to be done.
—August Derleth & Mark Schorer, Colonel Markesan and Less Pleasant People

The industrious collaboration during the summer of 1931 netted the two young writers 17 stories, one of which was a Mythos story titled “The Statement of Eric Marsh,” echoing Lovecraft’s “The Statement of Randolph Carter,” and it would introduce a new element to the expanding artificial mythology:

Though your major field will probably be much broader, you nevertheless have a very distinct aptitude for convincing spectral creation; & it would be a pity if things like the Tcho-Tchos & Rigelian daemons were to remain for ever unchronicled.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 3 Aug 1931, Essential Solitude 1.354

Herewith the Tcho-Tcho story, The Statement of Eric Marsh; I don’t like the story. Have you any suggestions for a better one? But then, the story is rotten, too.
—August Derleth to H. P. Lovecraft, 21 Aug 1931, ES1.365

As for a new title—how would “The City of Elder Evil” do? Or “The Lair of the Star-Spawn”? I’m not much for fancy titles, but I presume something on this order is what you’re looking for. I shall undoubtedly use the Tcho-Tchos in some later story—let Wright say what he please!
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 26 Aug 1931, ES1.367

“The Lair of the Star-Spawn” became the title; the story was accepted and published in Weird Tales (Aug 1932). Among the elements that Derleth & Schorer added or referenced in the story were the Tcho-Tcho:

It is true that strange legends had reached us, even before we had left Ho-Nan province, of a weird race of little people, wo whom the natives applied the odd name, Tcho-Tcho, supposedly living near or on the Plateau of Sung.

So the Hawk Expedition proceeded into Burma (present-day Myanmar). The story in many ways is a very typical Lost World/Lost Race narrative, comparable to H. Rider Haggard’s She (1886), Edgar Rice Burrough’s At the Earth’s Core (1914), Robert E. Howard’s “The Slithering Shadow” (1933) and “Red Nails” (1936), C. L. Moore’s “The Tree of Life” (1936), and many others—only with a Mythos twist, as the Tcho-Tcho are servants of Lloigor and Zhar. The descriptions of them are stereotypical:

[…] the tallest of them no more than four feet, with singularly small eyes set deep in dome-like, hairless heads. These queer attackers fell upon the party and had killed men and animals with their bright swords almost before our men could extract their weapons. […]

The Tcho-Tcho people could not believe them dead, since it is impossible for them to conceive of such a weapon as a gun. At base, they are very simple people. Yet they are inherently malevolent, for they now that they are working for the destruction of all that is good in the world. […]

Then the Old Ones, the Elder Gods, returned to the stars of Orion, leaving behind them ever-damned Cthulhu, Lloigor, Zhar, and others. But the evil ones left seeds on the plateau, on the island in the Lake of Dread which the Old Ones caused to be put here. Anf rom these seeds have sprung the Tcho-Tcho people, the spawn of elder evil, and now these people await the day when Loloigor and Zhar will rise again and sweep over all the earth!

Damning an entire species to be unapologetically or uncomplicatedly “evil” from birth is a gross oversimplification—but easy moralities play well in politics, pulp stories, and fairytales; J. R. R. Tolkien would do much the same thing with Orcs in his legendarium, with all the unfortunate implications still being worked out decades later. It’s not necessarily a problem of having a group of antagonists depicted as irredeemable—its the use of racialist language, ideas, and reasoning behind it.

Like the Inutos of “Polaris,” the Tcho-Tcho are depicted as aggressive, primitive, and adversarial to the main viewpoint of the story; Lovecraft doesn’t make the Inutos explicitly evil (or the men of Lomar good), but the framing of the story as a quasi-fable of the Yellow Peril would establish those relationships with the readers. Derleth & Schorer are if anything more explicit, even if they make the Tcho-Tcho a “race apart,” from both the Caucasian Eric Marsh and the Chinese Dr. Fo-Lan.

If it had been a one-off story where the Tcho-Tcho were never mentioned again, this would be worthy of a footnote—none of them appear to survive the end of Derleth & Schorer’s tale, though Derleth references them again in “The Thing That Walked On the Wind” (1933) and a few later stories; “The Sandwin Compact” (1940) moves them from Burma to Tibet—but of course, it didn’t end there.

“Do you remember,” he shouted, “what I told you about that ruined city in Indo-China where the Tcho-Tchos lived? You had to admit I’d been there when you saw the photographs, even if you did think I made that oblong swimmer in darkness out of wax. If you’d seen it writhing in the underground pools as I did. . . .”
—H. P. Lovecraft and Hazel Heald, “The Horror in the Museum”

Of earthly minds there were some from the winged, star-headed, half-vegetable race of palaeogean Antarctica; one from the reptile people of fabled Valusia; three from the furry pre-human Hyperborean worshippers of Tsathoggua; one from the wholly abominable Tcho-Tchos; two from the arachnid denizens of earth’s last age; five from the hardy coleopterous species immediately following mankind, to which the Great Race was some day to transfer its keenest minds en masse in the face of horrible peril; and several from different branches of humanity.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Shadow out of Time”

Lovecraft doesn’t expand much on the original conception of the Tcho-Tcho, aside from adding the “s” for a plural; he places them alongside the Serpent-People of Robert E. Howard’s “The Shadow Kingdom,” the Voormi of Clark Ashton Smith’s “The Seven Geases,” and his own Elder Things from At the Mountains of Madness—all in good fun, just an inside joke for astute readers and members of the gang. Yet it cemented, if that was necessary, the Tcho-Tcho as part of the Mythos.

For many readers the occasional references to the Tcho-Tcho people encountered in Cthulhu Mythos fiction do not really register. Aren’t these hard-to-prounounce people just one more of the so-called “servitor-races” of the Old Ones? So what?
—Robert M. Price and Tani Jantsang, “The True History of the Tcho Tcho People”
in Crypt of Cthulhu #51, 24

Unlike the Inutos, several later authors decided to elaborate on the Tcho-Tcho, to various purpose and effect. The term “servitor-races” that Price and Jantsang use is particular to the Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game, and is exemplary of the problem that the Tcho-Tcho embody: the long shadow of the Yellow Peril, sliding uncomfortably into the contemporary day. Call of Cthulhu came out of Runequest which came out of Dungeons & Dragons, which based itself on the borrowed racialist terminology of later 19th and early 20th century popular fiction: scientific romance, science fiction, fantasy, pulp fiction, Lost World and Lost Race tales, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, Robert E. Howard, H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Fritz Leiber…and more, but the gist is that in the translation to the roleplaying milieu, the Tcho-Tcho, Deep Ones, and other strange critters of the Mythos were translated into D&D-esque terms: where Tolkien (and thus D&D) had “races” of Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, and Humans, CoC had Humans, Deep Ones, Serpent People, Voormis, and Tcho-Tcho.

The habit of thinking of groups of sentient humanoid entities as biologically and culturally distinct from anatomically modern humans and essentially not human and morally irredeemable can be problematic in and of itself—there are plenty of parallels to scientific racialism and racial discrimination, which some authors of the Mythos have explored, such as in “The Doom That Came to Innsmouth” (1999) by Brian McNaughton & “The Litany of Earth” (2014) by Ruthanna Emrys.

In the case of the Tcho-Tcho, there are added wrinkles: their original placement in Southeast Asia, and subsequent movement around Asia by different authors, their depiction as inherently autochthonous and antagonistic to “human” life, and their initial description aspects of Asian visual stereotypes (short stature, different eyes), has allowed them to pick up several more Yellow Peril characteristics in their general depiction. Many Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game products, including spin-offs like Delta Green, depict the Tcho-Tcho as Asian characters, often conflating them with negative stereotypes as criminals and drug-dealers.

The issue of the Inutos and the Tcho-Tcho is a problem that transcends the Cthulhu Mythos. Those are symptoms, the result of many different writers working independently toward different goals, not stepping back to consider where some of the conceptions they were using came from or how they were being used. Fantasy racism can be used to explore some of the consequences of real-life racial discrimination and prejudice in a way that echoes the experience of ethnic minorities without calling them out…and it can be used very lazily, so that Tcho-Tcho (or Orcs,  etc.) can serve as easy villains and faceless fodder for the heroes to kill without moral compunction.

It is seductively easy to use stereotypes to apply to entire groups of people. That’s why pulp fictioneers did it; painting with a broad brush, using tropes the readers were familiar with, they could sketch out stories quickly and the reader could suspend disbelief. It is also why many people use it today; discrimination is terribly easy, appreciating the nuance and complexity of human relationships and seeing them as individuals rather than representatives of a group is hard.

Perhaps because of the initial complexity of “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” and their tremendous popularity, the Deep Ones have gotten a lot of attention and engendered a good deal of sympathy from later Mythos writers. The Tcho-Tcho have not attracted anything like the same level of development or empathy, and have fallen into a very weird space where they have largely become “acceptable villains” in Mythos roleplay and fiction—and, if they have not already, are in danger of becoming nothing more than a Mythos-flavored Yellow Peril.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

“Medusa’s Curse” (1995) by Sakura Mizuki (桜 水樹氏)

While many of H. P. Lovecraft’s tales have been adapted to the form of comics, and no few have been translated into other languages, it is comparatively rarer to see translations and adaptions of the revisions and ghostwriting stories into languages other than English. One of the very few such treatments is an adaptation of “Medusa’s Coil” (1939) by Zealia Bishop & H. P. Lovecraft entitled 「メデューサの呪い」(“Medusa’s Curse”) by 桜 水樹氏 (Sakura Mizuki), published in 妖神降臨―真ク・リトル・リトル神話コミック (1995), a collection of adaptations of comparatively lesser-known Mythos fiction by Robert Bloch, Henry Kuttner, and others. “Medusa’s Curse” is the final story in the volume, and begins with a preface:

The writers who during Lovecraft’s lifetime asked him to edit their stories are called ‘Lovecraft school’. Among this group the female author Z. Bishop left a most impressive work. Medusa’s Coil can be compared with Bishop’s other story “The Curse of Yig” which combines snake phobia and Native American folk tale. Due to its fine details, Medusa’s Coil is a special work that evokes mythological fear. Especially the outbreaking catastrophe at the story’s climax and the last unexpected twist take the reader into another dimension and leave him there.

Besides these two stories, Bishop also wrote the excellent story “The Mound” about the underground kingdom of K’n-yan and its cosmic terror. It is expected that this story will also be turned into a manga at one point.
—trans. Dr. Dierk Günther

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The adaptation removes the original Southern plantation setting, moving the story into a contemporary American South full of late 80s/early 90s styles. This transition also removes many of the objectionable elements from the original, as there are now no slaves (or people of color) in the story, no references to Africa, and the final revelations are focused much more on the cosmic horror of Marceline Bedard.

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“Marceline Bedard”

Sakura’s art style throughout is very subdued, realistic, with the slightly effeminate bishonen look to the younger male characters Denis and Marsh. It effectively communicates the quasi-love triangle set-up of the original story, the interplay between Denis, his friend Marsh, and Marceline as wife and nude model for the painting. For most of the story, the action is purely on that psychological level, no hint of the supernatural.

While there are liberties taken with truncating the story to fit in the space, overall this is a very faithful adaptation, with lines of dialogue borrowed directly from the story (sometimes in abbreviated form). The art tells more of the story than the dialogue, as a good graphic adaptation always does; little details like the ligature marks of the blood on the floor where the body was dragged, the shape of the handle and blade of the sword taken from a tulwar…and, of course, the painting itself, which attempts to express the inexpressible.

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Sound of heart beating
Shocked sound
Hissing sound of snake
Aaaaaahhhhhhhhhh
Sound of gunshot

One of the things the story adds is a literal emphasis on the serpentine aspect of Marceline Bedard and her hair which is lacking in the original story. Lovecraft and Bishop used the term “Medusa” metaphorically, the hair as an alien thing, perhaps closer to the strange tentacles of C. L. Moore’s “Shambleau” (1934) than to the monster of Greek myth. This becomes more obvious after her death, when the story goes from a bloody lover’s triangle to overt supernatural horror.

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Sound of car door, fire, screeching tires.

Note here how the narrator is in a panic, and the framework of the panels reflects that. No longer are they square and even, now everything is skewed and at Dutch angles, reflecting action and movement that the reader doesn’t see, but which happens in the gutters. It is a very effective way to show the disordered, chaotic state of mind, and is used to great effect on these pages. The very regularity and normality of the opening of the story makes it all the more jarring when the horror finally appears on the page.

All reference to Marceline as being mixed-race is gone, Sophonisba’s speech is gone, and with them all explicit references to Cthulhu and the Mythos. The story is certainly simpler for it, both from a narrative perspective and visually, while sacrificing none of the inherent power of the story. The tension builds nicely until the first bloody climax, and then the real horror begins… The final revelation now is less Marceline’s identity than the fact that the house had supposedly burnt down five or six years previously. Ending it in that way makes it more of a ghost story, similar to some of the tales in Lafcadio Hearn’s Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things (1904).

Translations and adaptations are tricky, especially when going back and forth between different media and languages. How much did Sakura deliberately jettison from the starting text, which was probably a Japanese translation rather than the original English? There are obvious efforts to remain faithful to the general events and specific wording of the story, even as it is updated to a contemporary setting (as are most of the other adaptations in the manga anthology), lines of dialogue from the English original come through in recognizable form when translated back into English, which can be a remarkable achievement in itself.

「メデューサの呪い」(“Medusa’s Curse”) by 桜 水樹氏 (Sakura Mizuki), published in 妖神降臨―真ク・リトル・リトル神話コミック (1995); I have not been able to find any reprints or translations.

With thanks and assistance to Dr. Dierk Günther of Tokushima University for assistance and translation of the Japanese original.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

Vidas Ilustres Presenta: Lovecraft, el hombre que revivió ritos espantosos (1972) by Editorial Novaro

The works of H. P. Lovecraft were first translated into Spanish (Castilian) and published in book form in the 1950s, no doubt some individual magazine appearances preceded those publications. But readers in Mexico in the 1970s could enjoy El color que cayó del cielo (1957 or 1964, Ediciones Minotauro), Obras escogidas (1966, Ediciones Acervo), En las montañas de la locura (1968, Eidtorial Seix Barral), El caso de Charles Dexter Ward (1971, Barral Editores), and Viajes al otro mundo (1971, Alianza Editorial)…and in September of 1972 in Mexico, eager young readers could snap up Vidas Illustres #292, thirty-two color pages dedicated to H. P. Lovecraft.

The date is significant; the first English-language biographical comic of H. P. Lovecraft was Kuchar’s “H.P.L.” in Arcade #3 (1975), and the first full-length biography, L. Sprague de Camp’s Lovecraft: A Biography (1975), were both published three years later. While Charlton Comics had published a very brief piece on Lovecraft in Baron Weirdwulf’s Haunted Library #61 (1971), that was only about a third of a page at the back of the book. Yet based on the details in the panels, the makers of this comic book (neither writer or artist is credited) obviously knew their Lovecraft. From the very first page:

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This is a very fair snapshot of Lovecraft’s life, as readers of imported Arkham House titles (or the cheaper paperback reprints) would have had in 1972, right down to signing off as “Luveh-Kerapf” (“Luveh-Keraph”). Nor were the writers/artists unwilling to show their influences:

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This issue would have been on the stands next to Mexican horror comics like Tradicions y Leyendas de la Colonia, El Monje Loco (issue #52 of which contains an uncredited adaptation of “The Colour Out of Space”), Las Momias de Guanajuato, and Mini Terror. These were infinitely more lurid and creepy than nearly anything on the newsstands in the English-speaking world in the early 1970s, with the possible exception of Warren publications like Eerie and Creepy. Mexico had no Comics Code Authority, but the Comisión Calificadora de Publicaciones y Revistas Ilustradas had limited resources with which to censor comics.

In production quality, the paper and printing are cheap and shoddy by today’s standards—but by 1970s standards, this wasn’t half bad, definitely on the lower end of the scale of professional publication but far from embarrassing to be seen next to second-tier horror comics like Charlton’s Haunted or Gold Key’s Doctor Spektor. Some of the panel layouts in particular show an awareness and willingness to experiment. This triptych layout for example:

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Not the height of comic art in the 1970s by any means, especially the bizarre anatomy of the critter in that lower right-hand panel, and the backgrounds are perfunctory at best, but the framework is more than just a four-by-four grid. Someone was definitely trying to invoke something, no matter the limitations of their skills or the medium.

While nominally Vidas Illustres #272 begins as a bio-comic of Lovecraft, by page eight it morphs into a very brief adaptation of “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” presented as a quasi-biographical story of Lovecraft himself! This is actually pretty fair for such an abbreviated epic, with the most notable odd discrepancy being the mix of clothing styles—the protagonist’s top-hat recalls the 1800s rather than the 1900s, although I suspect it owes something to The Haunted Palace (1963), a period horror film nominally adapting Edgar Allan Poe’s story of the same name but really borrowing from Lovecraft’s “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward”—the second figure in the third panel of the first page bears a distinct likeness to Haunted Palace star Vincent Price.

Some things did get lost in translation, or at least a little jumbled. The swastika-shaped signs are reduced to a single out-of-context panel that probably confused a lot of readers in a post-World War II Mexico. In one panel, “Iä! Iä! Cthulhu fhtagn” is transliterated as “¡Ia, Ia, Cthulu tfañg!” These are features more than flaws, writer and artist trying to cram as much into the thirty-two page comic as they could.

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There is something really poignant about the last pages, where fact and fiction combine and you get this version of Lovecraft reflecting back on his life and saying:

El horror de mi vida solitria y extravagante adquirió entonces un sentido: yo no soy de este mundo.

The horror of my lonely and extravagant life then acquired meaning: I am not of this world.

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As an individual work, Vidas Ilustres #292 might be seen by many as a curiosity—but it should be seen as exemplary of a distinct mode of Spanish-language graphic works involving Lovecraft and his Mythos. Artists from Latin America such as Alberto Breccia (Los Mitos de Cthulhu), his son Enrique Breccia (Lovecraft), and Horacio Lalia (Les Cauchemars de Lovecraft) have crafted superb adaptations and original stories based on Lovecraft’s work, as have Spanish artists such as Joan Boix (Grandes de la Macabro) and master painter Esteban Maroto (Lovecraft: The Myth of Cthulhu). Several of these works have been translated into English, but most can only be read in their original Spanish or in other languages.

References to the Mythos in Spanish comics has ranged from the erotic, such as Ignacio Noé and Ricardo Barreiro’s The Convent of Hell, to the lighthearted and comic such as José Oliver and Bart Torres’ El Joven LovecraftLovecraft continues to be an influence on Spanish-language comics to this day through the ongoing comics anthology Cthulhu from Diabolo Ediciones, including the special issue Lovecraft, un homenaje en 15 Historietas.

I could go on; the field is vast, and the influence of Lovecraft and his mythos runs deep. As far as I am aware, this issue was never reprinted in any form. If you are interested in reading the long out-of-print Vidas Illustres #292 yourself, the issue has been scanned and uploaded to the Internet Archive, where it can be read for free.

My thanks and appreciation to Silvia Moreno-Garcia whose article “Mexican Horror Comics” in the Weird Fiction Review #10 provided some of the background and inspiration for this piece.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

 

“European Glimpses” (1988) by Sonia H. Greene & H. P. Lovecraft

After a year and a half of almost daily letter-writing, back and forth, we were finally divorced in 1929, but we still kept up correspondence; this time it was entirely impersonal, but on a friendly basis, and the letters were far and few between until in 1932 I went to Europe. I was almost tempted to invite him along but I knew that since I was no longer his wife he would not have accepted. However, I wrote to him from England, Germany and France, sending him books and pictures of every conceivable scene that I thought might interest him.

When I visited the Cheshire Cheese Restaurant in London I sent him a replica of the beerstein out of which Dr. Johnson drank, and other souvenirs including a picture card of the corner (which was roped off and held sacred) in which the table and chairs stood that D.r johnson and his cronies and Boswell sat and drank and talked. […] From Germany and from france I sent him more scenic views; whole sets of the Castle of Rambouillet, the residence of Francis I, Versailles, Fontainbleau, Chartres, Rheims, Soissons, Chateau Thierry, Sevres, Le Lido, in Paris, the Luxembourg, the King’s Chapel—the entire walls of which are made of exquisite stained glass of which the process of coloring has become a lost art—Montmartre, Eglise Madeleine, Genevieve, the beautiful Russian Church on the Hill from which hilltop the entire city of Paris may be seen, Notre Dame, and many, many more places of historic interest that I no longer remember at present.

But I sent a travelogue to H P. which he revised for me.
—Sonia H. Davis, “The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft” in Ave Atque Vale 141-142

H. P. Lovecraft and his wife Sonia would meet for the final time in March 1933, when she prevailed upon him to visit her during a trip to Farmington, Connecticut. Whether she had any intention of publishing these “European Glimpses” is unknown, as the manuscript was not published until some years after her death. Most of their letters were largely lost—Sonia claims in her memoir to have burned her letters from Lovecraft—and as for her side of the correspondence:

[Lovecraft’s surviving aunt] Mrs. Gamwell also gave the children about a hundred picture postcards that Sonia had mailed to Howard. These all held loving, spirited messages to H.P.L. from his sweetheart in New York. Not knowing their possible value in the far-away future, I did not hold on to any of these cards bearing Sonia’s signature, written in her breezy, happy handwriting. […] The children played for hours with the cards, and they eventually went the way all children’s toys go…in the ash heap!
—Muriel Eddy, The Gentleman from Angell Street 17

Lovecraft himself spoke only very rarely of his wife in his letters after the divorce, and very seldom mentioned the marriage itself. It is possible that this circumspection may be why Lovecraft wrote to one friend living and studying abroad in Paris:

For the past year I have had such knowledge of Paris that I’ve felt tempted to advertise my services as a guide without ever having seen the damn place—this erudition coming from a ghost-writing job for a goof who wanted to be publicly eloquent about a trip from which he was apparently unable to extract any coherent first-hand impressions. I based my study on maps, guide-books, travel folders, descriptive volumes, & (above all) pictures—the cards secured from you forming the cream of the latter. Fixing the layout of the city in my mind, & calculating what vistas ought to be visible from certain points (pictures seen under a magnifying-glass furnish a splendid subsittute for first-hand vistas), I cooked up a travelogue which several Paris-wise readers have almost refused to believe was written by one never within 3000 miles of the place. If I ever get to your beloved burg I shall be able to stat in sightseeing without any preliminary orientation-tour or rubberneck-wagon ride. In my article I took a vicious fling at the ugly Eiffel Tower, & ventured the suggestion that the Victorian trocadero is an eyesore at close range, but glamourous when seen in the distance against a flaming sunset. Other parts of the text touched on chartres, Rheims, Versailles, Barbizon, Fontainebleau, & other tourist high spots. I revelled in the London section (I studied Old London intensively years ago, & could ramble guideless around it from Hampstead Heath to the Elephant & Castle!), but was not able to do it justice because of the nominal author’s hasty passage through it. nothing but the Tower, the Abbey, & the Cheshire Cheese seemed to give him a first-class kick.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Alfred Galpin, 4 Nov 1933, Letters to Alfred Galpin 196-197

All of these sites were in fact included in “European Glimpses,” and despite the references to “he” it seems clear that this travelogue was Sonia’s, with Lovecraft being misleading about the identity of his “client.” A manuscript written on the backs of letters to friends at the John Hay Library is dated 19 December 1932, and aside from internal evidence, this is the only date we have for when the piece was written.

As with Lovecraft’s other revisions, there is a question as to how much of his own writing makes up the final product. S. T. Joshi weighs in on this in the introduction to its first publication:

What we have, therefore, is a travelogue recounting Sonia’s experiences but written in Lovecraft’s style and frequently with his outlook and perspective. Would Sonia have called certain vistas of Paris “Dunsanian”? Would she have harped on the “meaningless” and “hideous” modernistic architecture of Germany (the subject of Lovecraft’s essay “Heritage or Modernism” written three years later)? Would she have thought of Rémy de Gourmont (author of the languidly philosophical prose-poem A Night in the Luxembourg) when wandering through Luxembourg Gardens? As we read this document we mut constantly adopt a sort of schizophrenic mind-set: the first-person narrator is supposed to be Sonia, but Lovecraft cannot help injecting his own views into her sights and experiences.

To be quite frank, however, Lovecraft was extraordinarily charitable to rewrite this travelogue for Sonia. Even in his version it is hopelessly unpublishable. Where did Sonia think she could land such a piece? Do we really want yet another commonplace account of hackneyed tourist sites like the Tower of London or Versailles?
—S. T. Joshi, “Introduction” to European Glimpses 5

It is a valid point; most of the entries are relatively brief and contain little real insight or interest as a travelogue. The ending of the narrative seems to acknowledge this:

There may be those who will think my modest jaunt a sadly hackneyed coursing in the beaten paths, but to them I can only reply that no path is truly purged of its glamour so long as any ancient memories or overtones of fancy still cling around to its sights and impressions.

The contents also echo both Sonia’s memoir and Lovecraft’s letter to Galpin strongly. For example, in discussing the Cheshire Cheese tavern, “European Glimpses” notes on Dr. Johnson’s mug: “Duplicates of these mugs are for sale, and form especially apt mementoes of the place and its illustrious frequenter.” (Collected Essays 4.234)

The one part of the travelogue that does hold continued interest is a reference to a gathering of the National Socialist party at which Adolf Hitler, then on campaign for the presidency of Germany, gave a speech:

During my stay of five days at Wiesbaden I had opportunities to observe the disturbed political state of Germany, and the constant squabbles between various dismally uniformed factions of would-be patriots. Of all the self-appointed leaders, Hitler alone seems to retain a cohesive and enthusiastic following; his sheer magnetism and force of will serving—in spite of his deficiencies in true social insight—to charm, drug, or hypnotise the hordes of youthful “Nazis” who blindly revere and obey him. Without possessing any clear-cut or well-founded programme for Germany’s economic reconstruction, he plays theatrically on the younger generation’s military emotions and sense of national pride; urging them to overthrow the restrictive provisions of the Versailles treaty and reassert the strength and supremacy of the German people. He is fond of such phrases as: “Germany, awaken and take your rightful heritage with your own strong hands!”—and when speaking of elections usually intimates that in case of defeat he will consider an armed march on Berlin corresponding to Mussolini’s Roman coup d’etat of 1922.

Hitler’s lack of clear, concrete objectives seems to lose him nothing with the crowd; and when—during my stay—he was scheduled to speak in Wiesbaden, the Kurpark was crowded fully two hours before the event by a throng whose quiet seriousness was almost funereal. the contrast with America’s jocose and apathetic election crowds was striking. When the leader finally appeared—his right hand lifted in an approved Fascist salute—the crowd shouted “Heil!!” three times, and then subsided into an attentive silence devoid alike of applause, heckling, or hissing. the general spirit of the address was that of Cato’s “Delenda est Carthago“—though one could not feel quite sure what particular Carthage, material or psychological, “Handsome Adolf” was trying to single out for anathema.

After the conclusion the crowd respectfully opened a path for his departure, and he left in his car as quietly as he had arrived—the only sound being a shot of farewell from his followers. then—silently, though perhaps with the general muffled discontent of the period—the kindly burghers dispersed to their not quite happy homes. At the time of this speech Hitler’s tactics hinted of a “back to the Monarchy” movement; and Prince August Wihelm, sone of the ex-Kaiser, was a brief supplementary speaker. the royal scion, however, failed to overshadow the would-be dictator in the popular emotions.

The waste of energy and widespread chaos caused by the incessant conflict of no less than thirty-six separate parties—of which three may be called major ones—is the most distressing phenomenon in modern Germany; yet no one seems able to reconcile the various shades of opinion and feeling which cause this confusing diversity. Taxes are exorbitant, unemployment terrific, and general confidence at a very low ebb. the people of Wiesbaden have lately come to call their habitat “the city without a smaile”, though the same might be said for almost any city in the Reich. Passport restrictions are very stringent, including both visas and police registration; and the tourist is taxed nine pfennigs a day during his sojourn in the country. yet the German people as a whole, apart from the governmental meshes in which they are entangled, are perhaps the most kindly and affable beings I have ever met. they are gracious, courteous, and delightful; and seem to radiate a really cordial glow devoid of hollowness or superficiality. they perform their duties with an almost military precision and effectiveness, and when once led out of their present chaos will undoubtedly resume their place of importance in the world. One hopes that a suitable leader may arise before the existing misery increases. (ibid. 239-240)

This speech was July 28th, 1932, part of a tour that Hitler was giving in the run-up to the 1932 elections in Germany (election day was 31 July). There is a lot to unpack in the general sentiments; some bits are clearly Lovecraft, some bits are clearly Sonia. The date of the manuscript is after the election, so he would know of the Nazi party’s success, even as Hitler lost his bid for the presidency.

Lovecraft’s own opinion of Hitler was one of cautious optimism. The Providence writer had a low opinion of the intellect of the masses, and believed that the democratic trust of the lowest denominator was illogical; he believed in a kind of natural aristocracy of the intelligent and capable who would rise to leadership positions—and thought he saw this in the rise of Mussolini, and later Hitler. He approved of strongly nationalistic ethos, which jived with his own prejudices regarding race and culture, and with a planned, state-run economy. However, he disliked the Nazis’ racial theories—finding them unscientific—and he thought Hitler a clownish figure (particularly the mustache). Overall, Lovecraft’s opinion on Hitler was mixed, and leaned toward approval…at least until Hitler became chancellor and began to actually enact his program, where Lovecraft’s support rapidly dwindled. Lovecraft died in 1937, before World War II or the horrors of the Holocaust could be revealed.

Sonia’s opinion of Hitler is less well-known; no correspondence from her survives from before the end of the war. As a Jewish woman, she would have been keenly aware of the anti-Semitic thrust of Nazi ideology. Her memoir of their marriage includes mention of Lovecraft’s apparent consideration, including a claim that Lovecraft read Mein Kampf as soon as it came out; the only English-language translation during HPL’s lifetime was the Dugdale abridgment, available for sale in 1933 (after their final meeting), and there are no mentions of it in Lovecraft’s surviving letters. Possibly she referred to excerpts from the translation published in the Times in 1933, which Lovecraft would more likely have had access to, and which presumably he may have written her about.

So how much of this was incident was Sonia, and how much was Lovecraft? It seems clear that she must have mentioned the rally in her notes or correspondence; the interpretation seems more strongly evocative of Lovecraft. It is not unlikely that this represents a sort of balancing-act between Sonia’s disapproval and Lovecraft’s tentative optimism toward a man and political party that would go on to be some of the greatest monsters in human history. This was the calm before the storm that would be another world war and the horrors of the Holocaust. Lovecraft and Sonia could not have known that, readers today cannot forget it.

Where was I? Oh, yes, back from Europe and once more in New England with Howard at my side exploring the grounds and places of cities more than three hundred years old. Yes, I believe I must have still loved Howard very much, more than I cared to admit even to myself.  For, although in my travels I met many eligible men, some of them offering honest proposals of marriage, none appealed to me until after a period of eight years, during which time I could not help but compare what to me appeared as the inadequacy of other men, when compared in point of intellect, with Howard.
—Sonia H. Davis, “The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft” in Ave Atque Vale 143

If “The Horror at Martin’s Beach” marks the true beginning of Sonia and Lovecraft’s relationship, then “European Glimpses” marks its true end. A strange and fitful journey that left its imprint on both of them.

“European Glimpses” was first published in 1988 by Necronomicon Press; it is republished in volume four of Lovecraft’s Collected Essays. The unedited 1932 manuscript is available to be read online for free.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

“The Horror in the Burying-Ground” (1937) by Hazel Heald & H. P. Lovecraft

Four years ago Hazel Heald made her bow to the readers of Weird Tales with an eery story called “The Horror in the Museum,” which established her at once among the most popular writers of weird fiction. She followed this with “Winged Death,” a story of the African tse-tse fly, and another tale of a weird monster from “the dark bacward and abysm of time.” The story published here, “The Horror in the Burying-Ground,” is as weird and compelling as anything this talented author has yet written. We recommend this fascinating story to you, for we know you will not be disappointed in it.
Weird Tales, May 1937

“The Horror in the Burying-Ground” was the last of Lovecraft’s revisions for Hazel Heald to be published. The details of its creation, and how much input she had into the plot, are difficult to make out. H. P. Lovecraft died on 15 March 1937; the May issue of Weird Tales containing this story would have hit the stands around mid-April. No manuscript or typescript is known to survive. As most of the information we have on the other Heald revisions comes from Lovecraft’s letters, and Lovecraft himself was dead and unable to comment on the story, we are left with far less data to go on.

What little information we have though points at “The Horror in the Burying-Ground” as something of an outlier. The previous revision “Out of the Æons” had come out a full two years prior in the April 1935 issue of Weird Tales, and Lovecraft had been firm that he was not doing any more collaborations after that—with no indications in his correspondence that he had changed his mind or was working on a new story for a client. Yet the story’s text clearly shows Lovecraft’s heavy revisory hand, if he didn’t simply ghost-write the whole thing. So what happened?

The simplest answer would be that this was indeed written after the sale of “Out of the Æons,” and that Lovecraft had simply neglected to mention it. Shortly after Lovecraft’s death, August Derleth began writing to Lovecraft’s correspondents and clients, beginning to collect data for what would be Arkham House publications of Lovecraft’s fiction. She wrote back:

By the way, I will have another tale in the May Weird Tales—my own. […] Truly we have all lost a wonderful friend in HPL. I feel lost without his letters and kind advice even though I have not worked with him for three years on my stories. He had told me that now I could stand on my own feet and work things out for myself.
—Hazel Heald to August Derleth, 25 Mar 1937

The “three years” comment would mean that the last story Lovecraft revised or ghost-wrote would be in 1934, which suggests that “The Horror in the Burying-Ground” was written earlier than that. Heald’s next comment on the story was some years later:

My HORROR IN THE BURYING GROUND was rejected once by Wright, then several years later I rewrote it in several places and he accepted it. He said I had too much dialect to read easily.
—Hazel Heald to August Derleth, 14 Oct 1944

The implication is that “The Horror in the Burying-Ground” was written somewhere between 1932 and 1934, submitted to Farnsworth Wright, editor of Weird Tales, and then rejected and shelved for some years until he requested to see it again. Nowhere does Heald give any credit to Lovecraft for the story, or say when it was written—but there are is a possible clue in Lovecraft’s letters.

The Horror in the Museum—a piece which I “ghost-wrote” for a client from a synopsis so poor that I well-nigh discarded it—is virtually my own work. Glad you found it entertaining. There will be two more Heald tales equally dependent on my pen.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Richard Ely Morse, 28 Jul 1933, Selected Letters 4.229

“The Horror in the Museum” was published in Weird Tales July 1933; the next two tales would presumably be “Winged Death” (March 1934), and “Out of the Æons” (April 1935); the first mention of “Winged Death” in Lovecraft’s letters is actually August 1932 (Essential Solitude 2.497), suggesting it was probably written before “The Horror in the Museum.” That would suggest that “The Horror in the Burying-Ground” was probably written before those three tales. If that is the case, then “The Horror in the Burying-Ground” was one of their first stories—either a revision or ghost-written. “The Man of Stone” (Wonder Stories Oct 1932) is typically given as the start of Lovecraft’s revision services, given that it was the first published and that Muriel E. Eddy states in her memoir The Gentleman from Angell Street states that “The Man of Stone” was the story that Heald was working on that caused Eddy to put her in touch with Lovecraft, which would suggest “The Horror in the Burying-Ground” was second.

But…what if “The Horror in the Burying-Ground” was the first of the Lovecraft/Heald revisions? That would make the order of writing:

  • “The Horror in the Burying-Ground”
  • “The Man of Stone”
  • “Winged Death”
  • “The Horror in the Museum”
  • “Out of the Æons”

This order, incidentally, would start with a story that has no Mythos connection (“The Horror in the Burying-Ground”) to stories with minimal Mythos references (“The Man of Stone,” “Winged Death”) to the full-blown Mythos tales (“The Horror in the Museum,” “Out of the Æons”). Could the fact that “The Man of Stone” appeared in Wonder Stories and that “Winged Death” was offered first to Strange Tales suggest, perhaps, Wright’s rejection of “The Horror in the Burying Ground” soured Heald to Weird Tales for a period?

We don’t know. While the idea is suggestive, it is still speculative. Given the nature of pulp publishing, the situation may have been even more complex.

Looking at the text of the story itself, this unknown history of the story presents three possibilities for “The Horror in the Burying-Ground”:

  1. An extensive revision, along the lines of “The Man of Stone.”
  2. A ghost-writing job, along the lines of “Winged Death.”
  3. An original story by Hazel Heald.

(1) assumes that there is more plot or writing involvement on Heald’s part, and would make more sense if it was written early in her relations with Lovecraft, and/or if she revised it after Wright rejected it. (2) is what the story is normally assumed to be; if the story was written late in their relationship, where Lovecraft was ghost-writing the stories entirely, this would be likely. (3) is what Heald claimed the story as; this appears to be unlikely, as the text has several hallmarks of Lovecraft’s prose, especially the portions of New England dialect. Compare:

“Don’t ye bury him, don’t ye bury him! He ain’t dead no more nor Lige Hopkins’s dog nor Deacon Leavitt’s calf was when he shot ’em full. He’s got some stuff he puts into ye to make ye seem like dead when ye ain’t! Ye seem like dead but ye know everything what’s a-goin’ on, and the next day ye come to as good as ever. Don’t ye bury him—he’ll come to under the earth an’ he can’t scratch up! He’s a good man, an’ not like Tom Sprague. Hope to Gawd Tom scratches an’ chokes for hours an’ hours. . . .”
—”The Horror in the Burying-Ground”

“The graoun’ was a-talkin’ lass night, an’ towards mornin’ Cha’ncey he heerd the whippoorwills so laoud in Col’ Spring Glen he couldn’t sleep nun. Then he thought he heerd another faint-like saound over towards Wizard Whateley’s—a kinder rippin’ or tearin’ o’ wood, like some big box er crate was bein’ opened fur off. What with this an’ that, he didn’t git to sleep at all till sunup, an’ no sooner was he up this mornin’, but he’s got to go over to Whateley’s an’ see what’s the matter. He see enough, I tell ye, Mis’ Corey! This dun’t mean no good, an’ I think as all the men-folks ought to git up a party an’ do suthin’. I know suthin’ awful’s abaout, an’ feel my time is nigh, though only Gawd knows jest what it is.”
—”The Dunwich Horror”

The dialect is very similar, if not quite identical; the Dunwich speakers use more long vowels. Heald’s comment that Wright asked her to remove some of the dialectic language may account for the difference, we have no way of knowing. Other elements that point toward Lovecraft’s involvement are various place and character names which appear elsewhere in Lovecraft’s life and works: Peck (“In the Vault”), Akeley (“The Whisperer in Darkness”), Frye (“The Dunwich Horror”), Atwood (At the Mountains of Madness, Fungi from Yuggoth), and “Goodenough” (perhaps a nod to his friend, the poet Arthur Goodenough).

The basic idea of the story has similarities to “The Man of Stone”—a chemical which induces a state of paralysis—and there are echoes of this same basic idea in the living brain in the mummified body in “Out of the Æons”; so it is thematically tied to the other stories, although less weird and fantastic than them. Unusual for a Lovecraft story is the bitter romantic story between Sophie Sprague, her brother Tom Sprague, and her attempted suitor Henry Thorndike. This story of control and aborted courtship, the complex of emotions that Sophie experienced as both the men in her life who tried to own and control her were gone—may suggest Heald had more to do with the plot than in the later ghost-written stories.

When would Wright have asked Heald to see the story again? While it would be poetic if Wright heard news of Lovecraft’s death and rushed a letter to Heald asking for it, knowing he would get no more stories from the deceased, the timing would be tight—Heald’s letter to Derleth is dated just ten days after Lovecraft’s date of death. Wright would have had to write immediately and Heald would have had to send it on as quickly. Not impossible, but given that Wright was known to hang on to stories for months, sometimes years after acceptance, it is just as likely that he had asked her to revise it at an earlier date and that May 1937 was simply when he slotted it into an issue.

The death of H. P. Lovecraft and its announcement crowded out most mentions of the story in “The Eyrie”; the only comment published was by longtime fan Gertrude Hemken:

I have not been disappointed in Hazel Heald’s story of The Horror in the Burying-Ground. The lady knows how to keep one’s interest brimming. Her method of relating the circumstances as told by the general store council has a touch of humor. Any hard-fisted citizen would condemn them for a bunch of crackpots. As for me—I’d listen, git werry uncomfy and when the tale is done, run like heck for home…
Weird Tales, July 1937

August Derleth must have had at least some suspicion of Lovecraft’s hand in the story, and it was anyway good enough for him to publish in one of the wartime Arkham House anthologies, Sleep No More: Twenty Masterpieces of Horror for the Connoisseur (1944), produced in both hardback and an Armed Services Edition. His introduction to the tale:

HAZEL HEALD is in a large sense a protege of the late H. P. Lovecraft, and her published work, which is not voluminous, plainly bears the mark of the master. A self-admitted “amateur” in writing, Hazel Heald has never sought to deny the felicitous influence of Lovecraft, whose work, she says, inspired her to write, and under whose direction she did her best work. Her story, The Curse of Yig (included in the Lovecraft collection Beyond the Wall of Sleep) is a Weird Tales classic, and her Out of the Eons and The Horror in the Museum (also reprinted in Beyond the Wall of Sleep) are also remarkably fine tales of horror. A New Englander all her life, Mrs. Head [sic] has occupied her time in many and varied positions; writing is an evocation which she has followed sparingly in the past few years.

Derleth confuses Heald with Zealia Bishop, Lovecraft’s client for the revision “The Curse of Yig”; Heald is credited with the story in Sleep No More. The tale is not published as a Lovecraft “revision” until it was published in Something About Cats and Other Pieces (1949)—whether Heald admitted Lovecraft’s part in the story or Derleth simply made the determination on his own is unknown. Heald herself died in 1961, and after this general scholarly consensus has leaned heavily on “The Horror in the Burying-Ground” being at least an extensive revision by Lovecraft, if not actually ghost-written. S. T. Joshi in his Variorum simply states:

The entire conception and execution of this story must be by HPL. (433)

Which may well be the case, although I suspect at least a little more of the plot was hers. We don’t know. All we do know is that “The Horror in the Burying-Ground” represents the posthumous end of their association. No other story of hers is known to have been published, although she mentions in letters to Derleth that she submitted a story to Dorothy McIlwraith, editor of Weird Tales after Farnsworth Wright. This unknown story never saw print, and may well be lost.

Near the end of Muriel Eddy’s memoir, she remarks:

Hazel, the sweet-faced writer who thought so much of Lovecraft, died February 3, 1961. She died unexpectedly of a heart seizure in a Boston hospital. She never remarried. What a match it would have been, if love had entered the heart of Lovecraft for this fine woman. They could have written many a weird classic together, for Hazel, unlike his other wife, would have been kind and understanding with him, knowing his sensibilities and his inborn gentleness. He could not be pushed into rank commercialism, but as a writer of the weird and unusual he was always tops in his field. And with that Hazel would have been content.
The Gentleman from Angell Street 27

Rose-tinted spectacles. While Lovecraft was almost certainly friendly toward Heald, as he was to many of his clients, and engaged in correspondence and visits outside the scope of a purely professional relationship, at its base Lovecraft was writing or re-writing Heald’s stories for moneyand determined, at the end, that the revision-work was both creatively exhausting and insufficiently remunerative to continue pursuing. It did result in five stories, two of which are significant additions to Lovecraft’s Mythos.

From what little evidence remains it appears her actual contribution in terms of writing was small, but Heald deserves credit for her part both as a catalyst to Lovecraft’s imagination and for the stories’ publication.

“The Horror in the Burying-Ground” may be read for free here.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

 

“Out of the Æons” (1935) by Hazel Heald & H. P. Lovecraft

Glad you enjoyed the Witch House and Museum story. Another tale which I revised for the “Museum” author, and which Wright has accepted, brings in von Juntz and his black book as almost the central theme. It concerns a mummy found in the crypt of a Cyclopean stone temple of fabulous antiquity; volcanically upheaved from the sea.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Robert E. Howard, 24 Jul 1933, A Means to Freedom 2.619

Regarding the scheduled “Out of the Æons”—I should say I did have a hand in it…..I wrote the damn thing! The original museum-mummy story submitted for revision was so utterly lousy (some crap about a Peruvian miner trapped underground) that I had to discard it altogether & prepare a fresh tale. But it’s really foolish to attempt jobs so extensive, when with the same amount of work one could write an acknowledged story of one’s own. This is the last collaboration of the sort I shall ever attempt—indeed, I’ve turned a deaf ear to all further suggestions from Sultan Malik, Mrs. Heald, Kid Bloch, & others.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 26 Mar 1935, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 594

Glad you like “Out of the Æons”—which is, as I may have mentioned, virtually an original story of mine. All that survives from the initial Heald outline (worthy Mme. H. never bothered to write out any actual text for it!) is the basic idea of a living brain discovered in an ancient mummy.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 11 Apr 1935, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 603

I enjoyed very much the story “Out of the Eons”. It might as well have carried your name beneath the title, for it was yours, all the way through.
—Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, May 1935, A Means To Freedom 2.851

“Out of the Æons” (also “Eons” and “Aeons” depending on the edition) was H. P. Lovecraft’s penultimate revision for Hazel Heald. Her part in this story appears to be comparatively less than that of “The Horror in the Museum” and “Winged Death”, and Lovecraft’s fleeting reference to “some crap about a Peruvian miner trapped underground” suggests a very different kind of story; as with other revision-clients, Lovecraft was taking increasing liberties in his ghost-writing to create a tale which was essentially his.

Hazel Heald’s own version of events is a little difficult to reconcile with Lovecraft’s:

I was a veginner and happened to be lucky enough to find HPL who certainly was the best to be found. he was a severe critic but I knew that if I finally suited him in my work that the editor would usually accept it. for example— I had to rewrite “Out of the Eons” six times to before he was completely satisfied! […] My “Out of the Eons” was inspired by trips that we had to taken [sic] to Boston and Cambridge museums together to visit any museum with HPL was certianly enough inspiration to write many tales.
—Hazel Heald to August Derleth, 25 Mar 1937

The first part is difficult to reconcile with Lovecraft’s claim to have ghostwritten the piece, unless perhaps “Out of the Æons” had a very long development. More interesting is the latter comment in the letter which discusses their time together. Lovecraft’s 1932 trip is detailed in the entry for “The Man of Stone”, at least as far as Muriel Eddy and W. Paul Cook were aware of it, since Lovecraft never mentioned it in any published letter. Heald adds her own response to Cook’s piece:

I was interested in Paul Cook’s account of lovecraft’s Boston visit, and how he made him rest up before coming over to my house. He certainly did not act tired, and ate very well, although Cook said her gave him a good meal before he came. I wonder if he thought that he would be starved at my house? He seemed to enjoy himself a lot. Soon after that he came again, and we visited all of the museums together. That was where I conceived the idea for OUT OF THE EONS.
—Hazel Heald to August Derleth, 14 Oct 1944

It is not clear which museums they might have visited, or when this might have occurred, although both the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Semitic Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts are possibilities, with collections of Egyptian artifacts and mummies that might have inspired the fictional Cabot Museum.

Muriel Eddy, who considered the divorced Mrs. Heald and Lovecraft a possible couple, commented on the story and ruminated on the match not working out:

One of these stands out vividly in my memory, “Out of the Eons”, a story of an Egyptian mummy inspired by a trip Hazel and H. P. L. took to a Boston museum, during which they stared at many mummies and geot steeped in Egyptian lore. […]

She confided in me that Lovecraft was truly a wonderful man, a real gentleman in every sense of the word. Schoalrly, precise, polite, grateful for her friendship…she was fast learning to like him a great deal. What should she do about it? Ah, that was the question!

She asked me to “drop a hint” when he visited our house…suggesting that Hazel was indeed a very lonely person, as most writers were, and enjoyed his company so much. I tried my best to have them both come to my house at the same time, but it never seemed convenient. He was really a busy man, with many commitments in the writing field, and this she could not understand. Gradually, his visits to Cambridge became less frequent. But she told me once that he sent her almost daily letters and many, many postcards […]

With a little encouragement, I am convinced that H.P.L. and Hazel might have married, and they would have made a good pair. But Lovecraft knew his health was failing, and perhaps did not feel like taking a chance on another marriage, seeing that his first one had failed so miserably.
—Muriel M. Eddy, The Gentleman From Angell Street 24-26

Lovecraft’s letters do not mention any romantic or quasi-romantic relationship with Hazel Heald; nor is it likely they would even if he was so inclined—which he probably was not. Neither Heald nor Eddy would have been aware that Lovecraft had never signed the papers to finalize the divorce with his wife Sonia. Heald gives little evidence to support Eddy’s assertions of possible matrimony, although some years later when Sonia’s account of their marriage “Howard Phillips Lovecraft As His Wife Remembers Him” was published, she wrote to comment:

Heald 1944
Hazel Heald to Winfield Townley Scott, 8 Sep 1948

It is possible that Eddy mistook the relationship between Heald and Lovecraft for more than it was; perhaps Heald did as well. Whatever the case, the story was written and submitted to Farnsworth Wright at Weird Tales, who accepted and published it in the April 1935 issue.

In content, the story is much like “The Mound” in that Lovecraft takes the opportunity to write an extensive addition to his mythos, with entities and locations new and old, ties to his past work (both under his own name and that of his revision-clients; Yig from “The Curse of Yig” appears, for example), and reference is made to the works of Clark Ashton Smith (Tsathoggua) and Robert E. Howard (von Junzt and his Black Book). Portions of the story have a much more pulpy atmosphere than usual for Lovecraft’s work, and T’yog, high priest of Shub-Niggurath’s dealings with those Muvian gods “friendly” to humanity (Shub-Niggurath, Nug and Yeb, and Yig) have a very high-fantasy cast; the whole story approaches a parody of Lovecraft’s typical work.

“Out of the Æons” is also notable for introducing Ghatanothoa, an entity described as “gigantic—tentacled—proboscidian—octopus-eyed—semi-amorphous—plastic—partly squamous and partly rugose”—who dwells in the Pacific Ocean and is served by “widespread secret cults of Asiatics, Polynesians, and heterogeneous mystical devotees.” Robert M. Price in “Lovecraft’s ‘Artificial Mythology'” argues that this is “really a new version of Cthulhu,” but later authors such as Lin Carter in his Xothic Cycle would make Ghatanothoa a son of Cthulhu, which would in turn lead to an expansion of the Cthulhu family tree along the style of Greek and Roman gods (eventually including Cthylla).

Despite all of its Lovecraftian excesses—or perhaps because of them—the story ended up being voted the best in the issue. Letters from readers in ‘The Eyrie’ praised it, and Heald:

Like a Lovecraft Masterpiece

John Malone, of Jackson, Mississippi, writes: “How does Hazel Heald do it? ‘Out of the Eons’ was like a masterpiece by H. P. Lovecraft. Hardly any of the horror was pictured, most of it was suggested, until the climax, when the revelation came!

Out of the Eons

Lewis F. Torrance, of Winfield, Kansas, writes: “‘Out of the Eons’ was the most remarkable, the best, the greatest, et al, narrative it has ever been my good fortune to read in Weird Tales. It seems to have that indefinable something that science-fiction has been lacking. Yours for more Hazel Heald.

In Praise of Mrs. Heald

B. M. Reynolds, of North Adams, Massachusetts, writes: “The April number was a treat. I cannot say enough in praise of the work of Hazel Heald. She is veritably a female Lovecraft. Her ‘Out of the Eons’ is a masterpiece…. I almost expected that Mr. Lovecraft himself would stroll into the museum and take a hand at deciphering the hieroglyphics on the scroll and cylinder. Let’s have more like this from Mrs. Heald…

Weird Tales, “The Eyrie” June 1935

The frequent references to Lovecraft suggest that at least a couple of readers were in on the joke, and had guessed that this was really a Lovecraft piece under a pseudonym—a common enough practice in the pulps. Lovecraft took this in stride with good humor.

August Derleth and Arkham House republished the story in Beyond the Wall of Sleep (1943), and it has enjoyed an active literary afterlife, having been reprinted many times. The main historical import of the story, as with “The Horror in the Museum” was in the way it deftly expanded the awareness of the Mythos, since more stories by more authors in Weird Tales were using the same strange names and books of lore.

For those interested in Hazel Heald, however, the most interesting part of it must remain the story behind the story—for while we may never know exactly what inspiration she provided to Lovecraft, it was clearly their association and their relationship that provided the crux of the tale.

“Out of the Æons” may be read for free online here.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

“Concerning the Conservative” (1915) by Charles D. Isaacson

Charles David Isaacson was born in Brooklyn in 1892. He studied the violin with his father, Mark N. In 1916, he became associated with “The New York Globe” as editor of the feature “Club Family” music. In connection with this newspaper feature, Mr. Isaacson organized and directed several thousand free concerts in all parts of the city. He was associated with other newspapers, including the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, as musical critic, and was the author of “Face to Face With Great Musicians,” “Simple Story of Music,” “Jews, Money and Such,” and “Stories from the Hindu.” He died in 1936.
⁠—History of Brooklyn Jewry (1937)169

ISAACSON, CHARLES DAVID: Writer, publicist; b. Nov. 9, 1891, Brooklyn, N.Y.; s. Mark Napoleon and Kate Cohen (Aarons) Isaacson; ed. Public schools; m. Emolyn Gloria Silverman, 1915, Brooklyn, N.Y. Founder and dir. of Charles D. Isaacson free concerts, totaling over 4,000 in number, covering period of 12 years; over 3,000,000 in N.Y.C. have attended; first under auspices N.Y. Globe and then N.Y. Evening Mail, of which was music editor; over 6,000 foremost artists contributed services. Toured U.S., lecturing and writing for newspapers and syndicates on music and art; associated with Chicago Opera, San Carlo Opera, Soc. of American Singers, etc.; contributes articles and short stories to Collier’s, Pictorial Review, Musical Quarterly, Musical America, Theatre Magazine, Jewish Tribune, Arts and Decorations, Motion Picture News, Ladies’ Home Journal, Outlook, American Hebrew, and others, many as regular editor. Author: Face to Face with Great Musicians (6 vols., Appleton); Music of David Minden (novel); THe Music Garden (Pictorial Review, 2 years); New Democratic Philosophy; Journeys of Modern Wandering Jew (Jewish Tribute); On Tour with Temperament (Hearst’s). Inventor; holds several patents. Director, Radio Station WRNY. Wrote several motion pictures, traveled in Chautauqua three seasons and carried on many civic “Art revivals” in Dallas, Philadelphia, Tulsa, Chattanooga, Memphis, Pittsburgh, Washington, etc. Res.: 51 Charlton St. Office: Roosevelt Hotel, N.Y. City.
Who’s Who In American Jewry (1926), Vol. 1, 288

In early 1915, Charles D. Isaacson, along with his new wife Emolyn G. S. Isaacson and William Harry Goodwin, published the first issue of In A Minor Key, an amateur journal which followed his musical upbringing and social and aesthetic interests, including: “advocated pacifism, condemned prejudice against African Americans and Jews, and praised Walt Whitman” (An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia 127). He was a member of the National Amateur Press Association, and would receive a laureateship for his sketch “Andante Appasionato [sic]” in 1916 (The History of Amateur Journalism 222). Edward H. Cole in 1917 lauded Isaacson’s participation in the Blue Pencil Club (an amateur journalist group, whose members would include James F. Morton and Sonia H. Greene, the future Mrs. H. P. Lovecraft).

H. P. Lovecraft had joined amateur journalism in 1914, and began publishing his own amateur journal The Conservative in 1915, around the same time as Isaacson. Pretty much from the beginning, Lovecraft and The Conservative attracted attention; the second issue included “The Conservative and His Critics,” a rebuttal to an unflattering review of the first issue which had appeared in William B. Stoddard’s amateur periodical The Brooklynite. In the same issue, Lovecraft also sets his critical sights on another amateur journal:

It was the good fortune of THE CONSERVATIVE to receive from The Blue Pencil Club a pamphlet entitled “In a Minor Key”, whose phenomenal excellence furnishes emphatic evidence that the old National still retains some members who would have done it credit even in its palmiest days. But great as may be the literary merit of the publication, its astonishing radicalism of thought cannot but arouse an overwhelming chorus of opposition from the saner elements of amateur journalism.

Charles D. Isaacson, the animating essence of the publication, is a character of remarkable quality. Descended from the race that produced a Mendelsshon, he is himself a musician of no ordinary talent, whilst as a man of literature he is worthy of comparison with his co-religionists Moses Mendez and Isaac D’Israeli. But the very spirituality which gives elevation to the Semitic mind, partially unfits it for the consideration of tastes and trends in Aryan thought and writings, hence it is not surprising that he is a radical of the extremest sort.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “In A Major Key,” The Conservative (July 1915)
reprinted in Collected Essays of H. P. Lovecraft 1.56-58

Lovecraft that goes on to criticize Isaacson’s appreciation of Walt Whitman (whose Leaves of Grass was sometimes considered obscene), his arguments regarding prejudice (including the film The Birth of a Nation released in 1915, based on the book and play The Clansman, which inspired the second incarnation of the Ku Klux Klan), and the call for pacifism. The point/counter-point approach of Lovecraft’s critique in The Conservative can be read in The Fossils #331.

Isaacson answered these claims in the next issue of In a Minor Key with a lengthy double-spread editorial:

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“Concerning the Conservative” has the distinction of being the first public address of Lovecraft’s antisemitic views in print. It may be the first real criticism that he had received regarding his views on Jews in his entire life. Such views were evident in his juvenile writings, beginning with a Latin inscription in the Poemata Minora (1900-1902) when Lovecraft was 10-12 years old. By his own account in his letters, his first encounters with Jews were fellow students at Hope Street English and Classical High School in 1904; the teachers appeared to tolerate this attitude without disciplining Lovecraft, giving tacit acceptance to his antisemitism (Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner 74-75).

In his rebuttal to Lovecraft, Isaacson strikes a chord when he describes his critic as “a lingerer in the traditions of the past.” The Eighteenth Century was the period that Lovecraft most identified with, aesthetically and personally; while Isaacson could not have known about Lovecraft’s Anglophilism (unless he had read the previous issue of The Conservative), he was absolutely correct when he identified that Lovecraft did not believe in the spirit of Republicanism, and the list of assertions that follows shortly after is basically accurate:

He is against free speech.
He is against freedom of thought.
He is against the liberty of the press.
He is against tolerance of color, creed and equality.
He upholds race prejudice.
He is in favor of monarchy.
—Charles D. Isaacson, “Concerning the Conservative,” In A Minor Key 2, Aug 1915

Lovecraft would eventually change his mind regarding censorship, but most of these were traits that the Old Gent from Providence would continue to espouse in his letters for the rest of his life. What is really striking about these comments, however, is how clearly and accurately they strike at the flaws in Lovecraft’s own method of argument. When Isaacson adds:

Despite his continued abeisance to the intellectuality and spirituality of the Jew, he continually attempts to place him apart—explaining away the ideas of an individual by his religion. (ibid.)

This was a direct counter to Lovecraft’s own claim that “Mr. Isaacson’s views on race prejudice […] are too subjective to be impartial.” Again, the insight is incredibly accurate.

Throughout his life and letters, Lovecraft would dismiss views regarding racial equality or attacking scientific racialism by saying that the individuals who held such views were either biased or sentimentalists—not, as he himself maintained to be, objectivists who held that scientific racism was a proven and unassailable fact. This is in direct contrast to many other fields of science, where Lovecraft would change his world view when new evidence presented itself. Scientific racism supported Lovecraft’s prejudices, and Lovecraft’s prejudices largely prevented him from considering the errors of scientific racism.

Isaacson’s comments regarding The Birth of a Nation are worth examining in some detail:

When, however, Mr. Lovecraft objects to my excoriation of “The Birth of a Nation” and agrees with me that in this moving picture there is an appeal against the negro,  he does not get the point of my protest. […] In my condemnation of “The Birth of a Nation” I did not enter into a sociological argument for tolerance of the negro, nor will I do so now. If Mr. Lovecraft is the true American he professes he will not seek to destroy what Lincoln has built. He will aim to assist and uplift the black and aid him to a clearer reason and purer morality. (ibid.)

At this point, Abraham Lincoln had been dead for some 50 years, and Reconstruction had been over since before either Lovecraft or Isaacson had been born. The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Dunning School were quite literally re-writing the history of the Civil War and its aftermath, recasting the Southern rebels as heroes and martyrs to the Lost Cause, erecting monuments and having unfavorable school books labeled “unfair to the South.” Isaacson missed the mark here; Lovecraft had already been exposed to these views and expressed sympathy for the Confederacy:

In history classes we used to have thunderous debates, for while “Abbie” was the daughter of a Union veteran, the Munroe boys & I were Confederate sympathizers. How we used to annoy her with our “compositions”—all flaming with love & glorification of the South! I subjoin for some verses which I once placed upon her desk. I have the original copy, for I composed them on the back of a half-tone illustration in Montgomery’s “American History”—a book still on my shelves. (LRK 72)

So it is not that Lovecraft did not get Isaacson’s initial point, but that Lovecraft did not see anything wrong with the work in question (even though Lovecraft had not seen the film, he had read the book and seen the play it was based on.) Isaacson’s argument that the film incited racial hatred ultimately fell on ears that were not deaf, but heard nothing wrong. Neither man could foresee that in November 1915, the Ku Klux Klan would be re-founded, inspired by the film. Nor could they envisage the domestic terrorism that this second Klan would be responsible for.

The subject which both Lovecraft and Isaacson dance around is the issue of Whitman’s sexuality, an issue which has been the subject of continued debate, although the general consensus is that Whitman was either homosexual or bisexual. This, as much as any particular language of Whitman’s poetry, is what Lovecraft hints obliquely at when he wrote: “His joys were sordid, and his morals mean.” Isaacson’s answer to this is equally circumlocutive:

I know what it is that Mr. Lovecraft and others object to and think vile. But if ever Mr. Lovecraft and these others grow so foolish as to love; and out of their love their reason for existence is justified, I hope they will not be ashamed.
—Charles D. Isaacson, “Concerning the Conservative,” In A Minor Key 2, Aug 1915

Again, Isaacson hits home: Lovecraft had no real romantic experience at this point, and would not marry until some years later. Given that both men were of about the same age, it may be that Isaacson’s careful and mostly correct dissection of Lovecraft suggests experience dealing with such arguments and prejudices. In the end, Isaacson’s final statement is about as clear a distinction of how far apart their two positions were:

We are looking forwards, not backwards. We are living, not acting. We are Americans, not ancients. We are coming to the land of Whitman, according to Lincoln, the greatest American, who said of him:

“There is a man.” (ibid.)

Unsurprising that he should find himself in disagreement with Lovecraft, who would declare in 1929: “The past is real—it is all there is.” (Letters to James F. Morton 180).

Lovecraft’s “In A Major Key” apparently demanded a response from Isaacson, and at least one friend apparently warned Lovecraft that it was coming and suggested an apology. In a letter that apparently dates before “Concerning the Conservative” was published, Lovecraft responded:

From your hint regarding Isaacson I imagine that my reply will differ very much from the apologetic form! A Jew is capable of infinite nastiness when he seeks revenge, & I believe I shall have ample grounds for making this particular Israelite the hero of a spirited Dunciad. I can almost predict his line of attack. he will call me superficial, crude, barbaric in thought, imperfect in education, offensively arrogant & bigoted, filled with venomous prejudice, wanting in good taste, &c. &c. &c. But what I can will say in reply is also violent & comprehensive. […] I am an anti-Semitic by nature, but thought I had concealed my prejudice in my remarks concerning Isaacson. I showed him every consideration in my article, carefully saying that I attacked not the man, but the ideas. […] The Jew is an adverse influence, since he insidiously degrades or Orientalizes our robust Aryan civilization. The intellect of the race is indisputably great, but its nature is not such that it may be safely employed in forming Western political & social ideas. Oppressive as it seems, the Jew must be muzzled. Wherefore Isaacson has reason to expect a warfare of the bitterest kind if he uses his revengeful sarcasm on me. I shall not utter the first word, but shall hold the CONSEVATIVE until the serpent strikes. Then—LET HIM BEWARE. Like old Marcus Fabius on his mission to Carthage, I come with folded toga, ready for peace or war.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Rheinhart Kleiner, 10 Aug 1915, LRK 18-19

That Lovecraft thinks he concealed his antisemitism in “In A Major Key” speaks to how far out of touch he was with the daily realities of prejudice; the grandstanding regarding the war of editorials in amateur journals has all of the drama of an internet forum flamewar in this century. As it happened, Isaacson did not make the arguments that Lovecraft predicted, refraining from ad hominem attacks and addressing the substance of Lovecraft’s own claims.

When “Concerning the Conservative” did appear, Lovecraft’s response in private was irate at the intellectual challenge to his criticism:

Isaacson’s predilection for obscenity has robbed him of all the delicacy inherent in real white men, & he views Nature without its beauty & its refining adornments. It is a mistake to allow Jews to mingle with Aryans as social equals. I have never been forced to do this, & at high school I drew the colour line at Jews as well as negroes, though of course there is no racial comparison between the two classes of undesirables. How diabolically Isaacson tries to compare different classes of prejudices, & trace to one source those arising from race, religion, & politics. As fellow sufferers with himself he groups races both above & beneath him; he calls everyone “persecuted”, from the masterful Aryan German, representative of the world’s highest racial stock, to the bestial nigger, link between man & the apes! If this be radicalism, let me thank heaven I am a conservative!
—H. P. Lovecraft to Rheinhart Kleiner, 25 Nov 1915, LRK 25

Lovecraft’s distinction of different sources of prejudice and discrimination rings a bit hypocritical, considering that his own justifications often combine aspects of historical prejudice, religious bias, scientific racism, and classism. Considering that this was, from all appearances, his first real interaction with a Jewish person in his adult life, and that the individual happened to hold largely opposite views to Lovecraft’s own, the reaction is not entirely unexpected. Challenged and called out on his views for basically the first time, Lovecraft’s response is an ugly diatribe—and might have been nastier, except for one thing.

Morton is a problem. I can feel the more wholesome nature of his work—with him I can come to grips as man to man—there is no slimy Jewry or Orientalism there—while Isaacson defies analysis with his shifty Asiatic caprices. Morton is harsh, insolent, overbearing, but not nasty. (ibid.)

James Ferdinand Morton had also published “Conservatism Gone Mad,” his critique of The Conservative in In A Minor Key No. 2; as Lovecraft recognized, he was not Jewish and could not be dismissed via prejudice as easily. Morton was the author of a tract, The Curse of Race Prejudice (1906), an early member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and very much the social progressive to Lovecraft’s social conservative—but also literate, intelligent, and insightful.

Lovecraft prepared an epic poem insulting both men: “The Isaaconio-Mortoniad”, in imitation of Alexander Pope’s “The Dunsiad”—but it was never published. In the next issue of The Conservative, Lovecraft still apparently had not read “Concerning the Conservative,” and gave some brief remarks in “The Conservative and His Critics”:

It appears that The Conservative’s review of Charles D. Isaacson’s recent paper was not accepted in the honestly critical spirit intended, and that Mr. Isaacson is preparing to wreak summary verbal vengeance upon the crude barbarian who cannot appreciate the loathsome Walt Whitman, cannot lose his self-respect as a white man, and cannot endorse a treasonable propaganda designed to deliver these United States as easy victims to the first hostile power who cares to conquer them. In view of The Conservative’s frank and explicit recognition of Mr. Isaacson’s unusual talent, the predicted reprisal seems scarcely necessary; yet if it must come, it will find its object, as usual, not unwilling to deliver blow for blow.
—H. P. Lovecraft, The Conservative Vol. 1, no. 3, Oct 1915

As it happened, Lovecraft made no public rejoinder to either Isaacson or Morton. Whether Kleiner or someone else in amateur journalism impressed on Lovecraft the need to let it drop, or he came to the conclusion on his own, Lovecraft chose not to continue. This may have simply been a matter of time to cool off more than anything else; the general substance of Lovecraft’s prejudices would not change, although experience in the coming years would considerably broaden his horizons.

There were three perhaps surprising outcomes of Charles D. Isaacson’s rebuttal to Lovecraft. The first came on 1 July 1916, when Isaacson and Kleiner passed through Providence on their way to a NAPA convention, stopping off to meet Lovecraft. The meeting was apparently amicable, and Lovecraft was invited along, but couldn’t go. The second came when he met James F. Morton at another amateur convention; this initiated a friendship that would last until the end of Lovecraft’s life, and Morton would continue to challenge his friend regarding the prejudices that he held.

The third and final outcome came late in 1936. Lovecraft and Isaacson had gone their separate ways for the most part, and there are no indications that they had conversed for twenty years, though one or two references to Isaacson’s work appeared in Lovecraft’s essays. Then, within months of succumbing to his terminal illness, he wrote:

Dominating the contents of this issue is the satiric mythological allegory on certain phases of human nature entitled “The God and the Man, a Saga of the Uphrigees”, by the late Charles D. Isaacson. Here we have grace, brilliancy, and wit of a high order; clever parallels, gentle irony, and apt imagery clothed in musical and well-balanced prose. this allegory, we are told, would have appeared some years ago in The American Mercury but for H. L. Mencken’s withdrawal from that magazine.
—H. P. Lovecraft, The Californian vol. 4, no. 3 (Winter 1936)
reprinted in  Collected Essays of H. P. Lovecraft 1.404

Charles D. Isaacson spoke out, in “Concerning the Conservative.” It is good that he did. He would not be the last to challenge Lovecraft’s preconceptions. Lovecraft’s response in his private letters speaks to how thoroughly ensconced he was in that worldview at that time; his lack of response—and effective letting go of the feud, aside from a few snide remarks in letters—and ability to praise Isaacson in later years speaks well for Lovecraft.

What would have happened if Isaacson had kept his peace? How long would Lovecraft have gone on, blissfully confident that no-one would challenge his prejudices? No one can do more than speculate. Yet we can say that this confrontation brought the subject out in the open, where Lovecraft’s views would be challenged repeatedly by Kleiner, Morton, and others. Isaacson was far from the last Jewish person that Lovecraft would meet—he would come into contact with the Jewish poet Samuel Loveman in 1917, and Jewish expatriate Sonia H. Greene of the Blue Pencil Club, who would become his wife in 1924. These relationships were not free from the shadow of Lovecraft’s antisemitism either, but they certainly influenced his life and writings.

It would be accurate to say that the brush with Lovecraft was but a footnote in Charles D. Isaacson’s life, one devoted chiefly to music and music journalism. So too, from the standpoint of Lovecraft’s career as an author of weird fiction, the incident is an early contretemps, from years before the founding of Weird Tales. Yet for both men, it is a tangent point, one where their stories collided—and, perhaps, changed them both.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

 

“Winged Death” (1934) by Hazel Heald & H. P. Lovecraft

Hazel Heald’s story in the current W.T. is very good.
—Clark Ashton Smith to H. P. Lovecraft, 7 Mar 1934, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 538

“Winged Death” is pretty much a ghost-written Ech-Pi-El-ism. All that honest Mrs. Heald had to start with was a cloudy idea about somebody killing somebody with bugs. Then she got a medical friend to shed some light on poisonous African insects, & decided to give the tale an African cast. That was all I had to go on. The plot—with the idea of transferred personality & the returning & ceiling-writing death-envoy—is entirely my own. But it doesn’t pay to do this sort of work—when one could have just as good chances of full pay with a piece nominally as well as actually one’s own. I’ve cut it out now—though the last two reliques of my collaboration (one more Heald opus & the collaboration with Sultan Malik) are yet to be printed.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 9 Mar 1934, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 544

“Winged Death” was nothing to run a temperature over, though Belknap has taken an unaccountable fancy to it. My share in it is something like 90 to 95%.
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 10 Apr 1934, O Fortunate Floridian! 129

Once again, H. P. Lovecraft takes a basic idea from a revision client and works it into his own very weird plot (more or less, there are some distinct parallels with another revision, “The Last Test”). For those interested in Hazel Heald’s contribution to this story, the question lies in what Lovecraft accounts for “5-10%”; no comment survives from Heald herself to shed light any light on the matter. In this case, that appears primarily to be the use of poisonous insects and an African setting—rare enough territory for Lovecraft, whose work very seldom went in that direction.

In 1934, Africa was still largely under the control of European powers. The Great War had seen a re-shuffling of African colonial possessions, but home rule by the indigenous peoples was rare, with only Ethiopia and Liberia free of European control—and Italy under Benito Mussolini would invade Ethiopia in 1935, beginning the Second Italo-Ethiopian War (and arguably part of the larger conflict that became World war II).

In the pulps, even in Weird Tales, Africa was still portrayed as the Dark Continent, with undiscovered marvels and horrors, black magic and primitive tribal societies far from white European rule that practiced body modification, cannibalism, and whatever else. The language and portrayal of native Africans were almost universally crude and prejudiced. H. Rider Haggard and Edgar Rice Burroughs led the way with their Allan Quartermain and Tarzan novels; Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane tromps through the jungles and deserts of the continent before the Scramble for Africa; Donald Wandrei’s “The Tree-Men of M’bwa” (Weird Tales Feb 1932) and Hugh B. Cave’s “The Cult of the White Ape” (Weird Tales Feb 1933) are set in contemporary Africa, but might easily have been written fifteen years earlier or later, as far as the pulps were concerned.

Lovecraft’s literary visits to Africa were few. “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family” (1921) touches on 18th-century British exploration of the Congo region, where Sir Wade Jermyn runs across a very Edgar Rice Burroughs-esque hidden city; “The Picture in the House” (1921) includes as a vital detail an engraving by the de Bry brothers about a cannibal butcher shop in the 16th century book Regnum Congo. In 1924, Lovecraft ghost-wrote “Imprisoned with the Pharaohs” for the magician Harry Houdini, supposedly based on an adventure during the latter’s tour of Egypt. Meditations on the ruins of Great Zimbabwe, which Lovecraft believed were left by a lost white civilization, formed the basis for the poem “The Outpost” (1930) and the African link in “Medusa’s Coil” (1939). There are other, minor references scattered throughout some of his stories, but Africa as a setting and Africans as characters rarely appear in Lovecraft’s fiction.

So “Winged Death” stands out as one of Lovecraft’s few attempts to actually capture Africa, particularly contemporary Africa, as a setting. Lovecraft chose South Africa, and did at least basic research as far as names and geography. The town of “M’gonga” is invented, and the description represents the old Colonial attitudes, warts and all:

When I saw myself losing ground in Mombasa, I applied for my present situation in the interior—at M’gonga, only fifty miles from the Uganda line. It is a cotton and ivory trading-post, with only eight white men besides myself. A beastly hole, almost on the equator, and full of every sort of fever known to mankind. Poisonous snakes and insects everywhere, and niggers with diseases nobody ever heard of outside medical college.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “Winged Death”

The “N-word” is used a grand total of three times in this story, which is less than in “Medusa’s Coil” or “The Rats in the Walls” (due solely to the name of the cat), and in keeping with Lovecraft’s style only ever as part of an account by a white character displaying their prejudice; the more neutral term “black” is used throughout when referring to the indigenous African characters. Arguably, this might be called restraint on Lovecraft’s part—he could certainly have gotten away with worse—but that’s a bit damning with faint praise, considering there was no need to use the word at all.

More interesting is the protagonist’s use of the name Galla, which is a racial slur for the Otomo people in Ethiopia, far from Uganda and South Africa where the story is set. Whether this was due to an error on Lovecraft’s part (possibly misreading antiquated sources as research), or a deliberate allusion to the “Gullah” people of Georgia and South Carolina whom Lovecraft discussed in a 1933 letter to R. H. Barlow (O Fortunate Floridian 88), is not clear. Intent, in cases like this, is impossible to tell.

The black supporting characters, notably the infected crocodile-hunter Mevana and the fly-victims Batta and Gamba, play their parts in this story but get little in the way of character development. This is nothing atypical of either Lovecraft or comparable African fiction; the focus is on the criminal mad scientist and the weird goings-on of the tale. The best that can be said is they are not portrayed in a notably negative way, aside from a touch of superstition.

Notable in the story is its sole connection to the Mythos, with an allusion to “The Outpost” (where “The Fishers from Outside” make their first appearance) and thus a kind of tie to “Medusa’s Coil”:

In one spot we came upon a trace of Cyclopean ruins which made even the Gallas run past in a wide circle. They say these megaliths are older than man, and that they used to be a haunt or outpost of “The Fishers from Outside”—whatever that means—and of the evil gods Tsadogwa and Clulu. To this day they are said to have a malign influence, and to be connected somehow with the devil-flies.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “Winged Death”

Not a lot of effort has been made by subsequent Mythos authors to tie together “Clulu” or “Winged Death” and “Marse Clooloo” of “Medusa’s Coil”; and probably for obvious reasons, although Lin Carter made some use of “The Fishers from Outside.” Still, it’s worth noting that Lovecraft himself was apparently not against the idea of an African recension of the Mythos. There is a certain irony in the final statement of Thomas Slaunewaite, who had ridiculed the native beliefs throughout the story, in admitting at the end “THE BLACKS WERE RIGHT.”

For the average reader at the time, however, “Winged Death” would likely have been taken as no more than another tale of African black magic, in the vein of Edward Lucas White’s “Lukundoo” (1907, reprinted in Weird Tales Nov 1925) or Henry S. Whitehead’s “The Lips” (Weird Tales Sep 1929). At least one fan noted that it was essentially an inverse detective tale:

Bernard J. Kenton, of Cleveland, writes: “How can any discriminating reader find merit in other fantasy magazines when Weird Tales adds a new Poe to its columns every month or so? Of the recent writers, Hazel Heald strikes my fancy most, for whenever did anything so strikingly horrible as ‘The Horror in the Museum’ appear in print? Even Lovecraft—as powerful and artistic as he is with macabre suggestiveness—could hardly, I suspect, have surpassed the grotesque scene in which the other-dimensional shambler leaps out upon the hero. ‘Winged Death’ (Heald) makes life a living joy for the amateur criminologist. It is my prediction (verified at least in fiction such as ‘Winged Death’ and ‘The Solitary Hunters’) that the man of exceptional intellect will turn to crime when legitimate channels of amassing wealth are unnavigable; compared to them, Al Capone will look like a kid stealing milk bottles.
—”The Eyrie” in Weird Tales May 1934

All of the language and most of the plot were supplied by Lovecraft rather than Heald; it is possible that her medical friend provided some of the technical data on poisonous African flies, though it is equally possible that Lovecraft dug this up himself through research. Once the story was written, probably in the summer of 1932, Hazel Heald then tried to sell it—and, interestingly enough, did not go straight for Weird Tales.

Something odd befell a client of mine the other day—involving a story-element which I had intended & introduced under the impression that it was strictly original to me. The tale was sent to Handsome Harry [Harry Bates, editor of Strange Tales], & he rejected it on the ground that the element in question (the act of an insect dipping itself in ink & writing on a white surface with its own body) formed the crux of another tale which he had just accepted. Hell’s bells—& I thought I’d hit on an idea of absolute novelty & uniqueness! Now I’m hoping that my client will land with Wright before the S.T. item appears, for otherwise there will be a suspicion of plagiarism from the latter.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, Aug 1932, Essential Solitude 2.497

Strange Tales of Terror and Mystery was essentially a clone of Weird Tales, but it paid better (2 cents per word on acceptance for ST, vs. 0.5 cent per word on publication for WT), and it successfully poached several authors from Weird Tales during its short run, including Robert E. Howard and Henry S. Whitehead. However, it only ran seven issues between 1931 and 1933; the story with the insect-writing was never published in its pages. No doubt Lovecraft advised Heald to try the story on S.T. first, and only after it was rejected to submit it to Wright, who apparently held onto it for some time before it was finally published in 1934.

The story remained fairly obscure; August Derleth reprinted it as one of Lovecraft’s revisions in Marginalia (1944), but it was not reprinted again until bundled with the rest of the revisions and collaborations in The Horror in the Museum and Other Revisions in the 1970s, from where it began to be reprinted more frequently. Regrettably, no comment survives from Hazel Heald of what Lovecraft made of her plot-germ.

“Winged Death” may be read for free online here.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).